Venezuelans in MLB have hearts, minds back at home
By Ricardo Zuniga, AP
February 24, 2014, 12:00 am TWN
AP--Spring training is a time to get in shape for the upcoming major league season, work on mechanics or maybe compete for a spot on the team.
For Miguel Cabrera, Felix Hernandez, Elvis Andrus and many other Venezuelan players, it's an even more complicated mix. They have their minds thousands of miles away on civil unrest back home.
Political violence is blamed for at least eight deaths and more than 100 injuries since Feb. 12 in Venezuela, home to 63 players who were on opening day rosters at the beginning of the 2013 season.
Cabrera on Friday tweeted a photo with several teammates, including fellow Venezuelan and new Tigers infield coach Omar Vizquel, posing with two Venezuelan flags and messages in Spanish such as "#WE ARE YOUR VOICE VENEZUELA," "#FAR BUT NOT ABSENT" and "#SOSVENEZUELA."
"Supporting VENEZUELA from here," wrote the two-time AL MVP, born in the central city of Maracay, at the Detroit Tigers' camp in Lakeland, Florida.
Marlins pitcher Henderson Alvarez and several Miami teammates posed on Saturday with a Venezuela flag, holding signs with the word "Peace" in Spanish. The 23-year old right-hander said he brought his wife and 2-month-old daughter to Florida after the baby suffered respiratory problems because of tear gas thrown near their home in Caracas.
"My family in Valencia is fine. My daughter is the one who was affected," said Alvarez, who threw a no-hitter last season. "She was affected by tear gas twice. I sent for her yesterday, I brought her and my wife to Miami."
Valencia, in the northern Venezuelan state of Carabobo, is the hometown of a 22-year-old beauty queen who was slain this week during a political protest.
Government opponents say her death was the result of indiscriminate violence used by President Nicolas Maduro and his supporters to stifle dissent across the country, while the government alleges she was shot by opposition protesters.
Maduro said Venezuelan players were under pressure from the U.S. and their teams to speak out against his government.
"This is just a lie they (the opposition) are telling the world," he said in a speech Saturday. "They've looked and paid for famous artists around the world to say and write these things, the've pressured Venezuelan major leaguers to show up in little photos saying 'SOSVenezuela.'"
"The major league team owners have pressured our boys," he said.
Andrus, Adrian Beltre and several Texas teammates posed Saturday with Venezuelan flags and signs at camp in Surprise, Ariz. The shortstop said it wasn't a political stand.
"As a fellow Venezuelan, it's the right thing for us to show the support to students to try to bring peace," he said. "I think in the end, it's all about being human beings. And when you're good human beings, you don't want people to get killed, get shot or what's happening right now."
"It's not like we're changing anything or trying to get into the political stuff or political area," he said. "At the end we're not trying to go to any side."
Pitchers Yu Darvish of Japan and Jose Contreras of Cuba joined Andrus and the Rangers in the picture.