Venezuela, long a fertile ground for major-league talent, now repels many of the players it produced.
On March 24, USA Today profiled Venezuelan baseball players who fear their home country. Chicago Cubs catcher Miguel Montero made Phoenix his home in 2007. He returned to Venezuela during the offseason, but 2014-2015 was different. He landed, renewed his passport, and flew back to America.
“I would go from the place where I was trying to get my passport to the house and back,” he explained. “That’s it. You want to go to your country to relax and have a good time, not to be shut inside your house because you’re afraid to go out.… There are safety concerns anywhere in the world, but you watch the news about Venezuela and more people have been killed there than in Afghanistan.”
Montero is a father to two kids and said he “will request U.S. citizenship this year.” He is not the only Venezuelan player who feels this way. Felix Hernandez, Miguel Cabrera, Carlos Gonzalez, Victor Martinez, Gregor Blanco, and Guillermo Quiroz are only a few of the other players who desire American citizenship to escape Venezuela.
During the offseason, Blanco, also a father of two, “spent three weeks” in Los Valles del Tuy, where he spent his childhood. He told USA Today it used to be “pleasant and tranquil.” Now he wants to permanently live in America.
“I never thought of moving here to live,” he said. “The United States is a beautiful country with lots of great things, but it’s hard to move from your country to a different one. You’re used to your culture, your country, your people. Everything changed overnight when I realized, ‘Wow, I have to look out for my sons’ safety.’ That’s why I made that decision.”
Blanco wanted to build a house there, but could not find any appliances over the course of five years.The place lacks “food and basic goods such as toilet paper, diapers and medicines.” The lines for basic needs are very long.
The lines at the grocery stores are so long that the people accepted jobs to stand in line for a living. A pregnant woman described a trip to the store to Reuters as “savage, people running everywhere.” The news agency reports the standing in line job as “starting before dawn, enduring long hours under the sun, dodging or bribing police, and then selling a coveted spot at the front of huge shopping lines.” The government even rations water. Hospitals in the country choose to amputate limbs due to a scarcity of medical equipment. They lack latex gloves and gowns.
Criminal activity is also up in Blanco’s area.
“You’re always worried that something bad might happen,” described Blanco. “When you’re asleep, any noise makes you think about the worst consequences. It’s hard to live with that stress every day.”
Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos started filing the paperwork needed to obtain American citizenship. He returned to Venezuela every offseason to play winter ball “even after being kidnapped by armed gunmen outside his family’s house 3 ½ years ago.”
“It saddens me that we have to abandon our country, which you love so much, for safety reasons, but you have to do what’s best for your well-being,” said Ramos.
Gunmen abducted Ramos in Valencia, which is 106 miles west of Caracas, the capital of Venezuela. He told the media his kidnappers planned his abduction and wanted a huge ransom. Caracas is considered the kidnapping capital of the world with about five kidnappings a day. The National Post actually sat down with Jorge Gonzalez, an experienced kidnapper, who explained the “market.” If a family member cannot pay a ransom, the group kills the victim. Gonzalez said kidnapping is “not the best way to earn a living, but it is the easiest.”
Quiroz officially moved to America two years ago, but him and his wife fear for their relatives in Venezuela. It is not easy to bring relatives due to the legal systems, but society and culture are also obstacles.
“Every day I think about them,” explained Quiroz. “It’s really hard to be here and be able to live a peaceful life knowing your family back there doesn’t have enough of the necessities, that they might have to pay an absurd price for food, and you can hardly do anything to help them. They can come over and visit for a month or two, but ultimately they have to return to that harsh reality.”
The turmoil is also punishing the Venezuelan children. The violence and hardships forced many MLB teams to suspend their baseball academies. In the late 1990s, MLB owned over 22 academies. The number declined to four by 2015. Scout Andrew Reiner believes the lesser number of camps will not diminish the country from producing quality players. However, the system will make it harder for teams and scouts to watch the players and could diminish the amount of Venezuelan players in the majors.