News of Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos' kidnapping has me wondering how safe it is for major league players and scouts to be in Venezuela. I remember former Oriole Calvin Maduro, who now is an international scout for the O's, telling me how much talent is in Venezuela. He said for some reason, that country right now is the hotbed for talent and clubs have to have a presence there.
The problem is the scouts are targets for armed robbers (moreso than kidnapping). Maduro told me the scouts take precautions. They try to stick to areas in which they are familiar and don't carry large amounts of cash with them. Still, if a kid with an upper 90s fastball lives in a shady neighborhood, the scouts will go there.
As the Orioles are expected to expand their presence in the International market under new executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette, you have to imagine safety in countries like Mexico and Venezuela will be major concerns.
It will be one of the many challenges operating in foreign territories.
On a side note, I called former Oriole Melvin Mora, who still lives in the area, to get a better perspective on the situation in Venezuela. A native Venezuelan, Mora knows all too well the dangers ballplayers face when returning to their home country.
Still, even Mora was shocked at the news his friend Ramos had been kidnapped. When the Nationals traveled to Arizona last season, Mora, then with the Diamondbacks, met Ramos for dinner. Both are part of that close-knit fraternity of Venezuelans in the major leagues. Mora said he contacted representatives within the players union and even officials within the Venezuelan government to express his displeasure at the lack of security.
Mora told me that Venezuelan players fear their family back home might be kidnapped for ransom, but until Ramos, an actual player being kidnapped seemed unlikely. Mora said when he played winter ball in Venezuela, he'd come off a road trip and would wonder if his family would be OK when he returned to his house. Many players, he said, carried guns. Those who didn't were sitting ducks, especially at 3 a.m., when the team bus dropped them off at their cars.
It makes you wonder, if its players are playing under such dangerous conditions, why is Major League Baseball allowing players on 40-man rosters to play winter ball there? It's a matter I expect will be closely examined in the wake of Ramos' kidnapping.
Mora will be calling in "The Mid-Atlantic Sports Report," which airs tonight from 5:30-7 p.m. for more on the topic.