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Not Safe at Home

Nov. 21, 2011
Nov. 21, 2011

Table of Contents
Nov. 21, 2011

LEADING OFF
Inside: THE WEEK IN SPORTS
SPECIAL REPORT: SCANDAL. SHAME. A SEARCH FOR ANSWERS.
PRO FOOTBALL
  • Remember the 49ers? After eight dismal years, the former glamour team has been reborn—as a band of blue-collar misfits led by an intense new coach and a roster full of NFL castoffs

PRO HOCKEY
PRO BASKETBALL
  • J.J. Barea, the breakout star of the NBA Finals, wants to get back to work. Until he does, he'll be hanging out with his girlfriend— a former Miss Universe—on the tropical island where he's a hero

HEY SIXTEEN
  • HAS A LOT ON HER MIND. THE YOUNGEST WINNER IN LPGA TOUR HISTORY HAS THE GAME, THE DRIVE AND THE CHARISMA TO BE THE NEXT MEGASTAR IN WOMEN'S GOLF. IF ONLY SHE COULD FIND A DATE TO THE PROM

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Not Safe at Home

The kidnapping of Wilson Ramos points up the dangers players face in Venezuela

When Nationals executives made a trade-deadline deal for Wilson Ramos in 2010, the scouting report on the rookie catcher was something like: athletic, strong arm with excellent game-calling skills. Clearly, the kidnappers who abducted Ramos at gunpoint from in front of his family's home on Nov. 9 in Valencia, Venezuela, had a scouting report of their own on the catcher: perfect target.

This is an article from the Nov. 21, 2011 issue

The 24-year-old Ramos makes good money—$415,000, just over the $414,000 MLB minimum—but not enough to afford a private security detail like the ones some prominent Venezuelan players employ when visiting home. Ramos was recognized but not as famous as Mets lefthander Johan Santana, whose high profile once forced the Venezuelan government to station a national guard detail outside his parents' home in Tovar. For Ramos there was no such safeguard against the threat of abduction, which has increased an estimated 470% over the past 11 years in his native country. (According to officials, Ramos was the first major league player known to have been kidnapped, but relatives of several big leaguers have been taken for ransom in recent years and two have been killed.)

After being held for two days in the mountains, Ramos was rescued in a raid by police and government commandos, who exchanged gunfire with the kidnappers before taking six suspects into custody. "I didn't know if I was going to get out of it alive," Ramos (left, in cap) told reporters after being returned to Valencia. Reunited with his family, Ramos said he planned to join his Venezuelan team, Tigres de Aragua.

The emergence of promising young Venezuelan players like Ramos—a record 62 of whom appeared on MLB's 2011 Opening Day rosters—is in some ways a result of the soaring violence at home. Says one National League international scouting director who has spent decades in Venezuela, "I have parents telling me, 'Please take my son, there's nothing good here for him.' The players from poor families see baseball as their way out." For some, at least, it is: The number of Venezuelan prospects signed has doubled from 100 in 2005 to 202 in '10, and signing bonuses have increased from $2.6 million to $17.1 million in that time.

That very success, of course, brings its own dangers. In an effort to protect players, most Venezuelan winter league teams now employ hefty security details for players. In addition, Major League Baseball hired Joel Rengifo, the former head of Venezuela's antikidnapping unit, as a security consultant for the MLB's players and employees. Despite his ordeal and the ongoing danger in his home country, Ramos has no plans to return to Washington soon. "I want to stay," he said on Saturday, as a gesture "to the Venezuelan people ... so that they can see me play here."

THEY SAID IT

"To answer your question, I'm not going to answer that question.... Anybody else got a question?"

MARK RICHT Georgia football coach, responding at a press conference to a query about three Bulldogs players who were suspended, allegedly for failed drug tests.

PHOTOGARY W. GREEN/ORLANDO SENTINEL/MCT/ZUMAPRESS.COM (RICHT)PHOTOLEXANDER LOIZA/AP (RAMOS)