In the wake of the news that Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos was abducted Wednesday, at or near his home in Santa Ines, Venezuela, reportedly by four armed men, we're reminded that Venezuela can be an exceptionally dangerous place.
Here are just two short passages from one long and scary warning from the U.S. State Department:
The Venezuelan National Counter Kidnapping Commission was created in 2006, and since then, official statistics have shown alarming increases in reported kidnappings throughout the country. In fact, kidnappings in 2009 increased anywhere from 40-60 percent from the previous year. Surveys show that the overwhelming majority of kidnappings and other major crimes are not reported to the police.
Police investigations into kidnappings have revealed that police officers are often involved, and corruption within police forces is a concern.
None of this is news to anyone who lives in Venezuela, of course. But I suspect that most (North) American baseball fans are blissfully unaware of what's happening down there. Somehow these facts haven't stuck in our heads like they might, though the abduction of Wilson Ramos is far from the first time that Venezuelan's violent criminals have victimized Major League Baseball players and their families.
As Kevin Goldstein wrote, Wednesday night:
Kidnapping and baseball have crossed paths before in Venezeula. Two years ago, Yorvit Torrealba and his family paid a ransom for the return of his son. Also that year, Victor Zambrano's mother was rescued by a raid following her kidnapping, while in the biggest tragedy, the brother of Henry Blanco was kidnapped in December of 2008, with his body found the next day. He had been shot 15 times.
I didn't realize until just now how many Venezuelans are in the major leagues: 81 played in the majors in 2011. Eighty-one highly visible and wealthy Venezuelans, many of whom presumably do return to their homeland during the off-season, whether to visit family or to simply live. While knowing there's an attendant risk.
Still, what distinguishes this story from the others is that Ramos is the first player who's actually been abducted.
For those of us who care about the great athletes we watch at the ballparks and on TV, now there is nothing to do but hope.