Becoming a professional baseball player should mean you're pretty much set, right? Forget the odds that a fringe (or star) professional athlete will go broke before he's a certain age—if you spend much of your twenties and thirties making millions or near millions of dollars for playing a game, you've made it in at least the brute economic sense. You should be relatively worry-free. For some MLB players, though, the heightened notoriety is hardly worth the risk.
Venezuelan baseball players—about 8% of the major leagues—who seek to live at home in the offseason become targets for their wealth in a country where kidnapping has risen sharply in recent years. Those that don't often travel home still risk letting their family in Venezuela bear the brunt of their reputations. This past winter, kidnappers abducted Wilson Ramos, then of the Nationals; he was rescued two days later after a gunfight between police and his captors. Ramos said at the time, "They didn't physically harm me, psychologically I underwent very great harm." At ESPN, Didier Morais writes that teams, police and players aren't treating it like an isolated incident:
Despite the state of affairs in his country, [Felix] Doubront still takes his family to visit every offseason. He planned to celebrate the holiday season in Venezuela and stay for roughly two months.
But Doubront maintains a very low profile during his homecomings. In fact, he spends the majority of his vacation at home. Whenever he does explore town, Doubront always aligns himself with a large posse, typically friends who serve as bodyguards.
"Walking around, especially by myself, is dangerous," Doubront said. "It's scary to think that there may be a criminal, maybe not going after me, but going after one of your loved ones. Even if you just go to the beach, you have to be careful. It's frightening."
For some players, those concerns permeate into the season. Morales — who lives in Venezuela during the offseason — admitted to feeling uneasy about the lengthy separation from his extended family while playing in Boston.
"I know a lot of fellow players that have had to hire bodyguards, buy pistols and drive cars with tinted windows [in Venezuela]," said [Omar] Infante, a native of Puerto la Cruz. "It hurts to have to go back to your own country and have to watch yourself like that — and have bodyguards on call — because you're never comfortable."
Endy Chavez and Martin Prado wouldn't even comment for the article for fear of putting their families in danger. Next time you hear about the second-highest paid player in baseball forgetting how to hit because he quit chewing tobacco, remember: Some players are laboring under the concern that they or their families might be kidnapped.
The Dangers Of MLB Stardom [ESPN Boston]