UPDATE: Wilson Ramos was rescued Friday in Venezuela. Read the story of his rescue here.
If anyone understands violence in Venezuela, it is former Oriole Melvin Mora, whose father was killed in front of the family’s home in a case of mistaken identity when Mora was just a boy.
So, sadly, he’s not surprised that 24-year-old catcher Washington Nationals Wilson Ramos was kidnapped in Valencia, Venezuela, on Wednesday and is being held hostage, presumably for ransom.
Ramos was taken from his home by four gunmen, and, as of early Friday afternoon, an investigation was ongoing and Ramos was believed to be alive. Mora doesn’t know Ramos well but spent time with him at a restaurant last year when the Nationals and Arizona Diamondbacks, Mora's team in 2011, played.
“I’m really worried, not only for Ramos, but I worry for his family,” Mora said. “They went and talked to the police, and I’m afraid [the perpetrators] will come back and do something to them later because they went to the police.”
Mora, who was cut by the Diamondbacks at the end of June, lives full time in Bel Air, but he visits his home country frequently. He goes in and out without telling too many people he is visiting. He said that sometimes his mother, who lives primarily in Venezuela, doesn’t even know when he has returned to Maryland.
“My mama will call and say, ‘Where are you?’ and I’ll say, ‘I am in the United States,’ and she’ll say: ‘When did you leave? You were just here?’ I kind of go into hiding,” he said.
He said he understands the perils of his country and that it is easy to be caught up in the criminal world.
“Somebody shoots my dad in front of me, and sometimes, in life, you don’t realize you’ve been through all this stuff when you have a good family and you have a reason to care and work hard,” he said. “But when you don’t have anybody, you end up as one of them in crime or [as] killers. I’m glad my mama always took care of me. She never allowed us to go in a bad direction, and here we are. When we go to Venezuela now, we see 14-year-olds really serious about crime. [Lawmakers] have reduced the crime a little bit, but it is still there.”
Mora has always been a huge supporter of Venezuela and has a children’s foundation there. He said he returned recently to deliver baseball equipment and was met by a man with a gun. The man escorted him around the area, making sure he wouldn’t be harmed by others.
Mora said the man told him he wanted to protect Mora because the ballplayer had given his son baseball equipment.
The Ramos incident, he said, likely will deter other big league players from going to Venezuela and participating in the winter league there. That’s completely understandable, and a shame, he said.
“It’s a sad situation. There are so many families, wives and kids, that support the players. They go over there to give a good attraction to the fans, to play for the fans and we give you a good show,” Mora said. “And we don’t expect that it is going to be scary. But all the players don’t want to play in Venezuela now because of security, and that is sad.”
Mora said the country of Colombia also used to be crime ridden, but with the help of the U.S. government, it’s safer now – safer than Venezuela. He would like the same thing to happen in his homeland.
“I think we need help from the United States to help us fix the things over there in that country. I don’t think without the United States we can do it,” Mora said. “I have lived 20 years here, I see the security here. I see how it works here. But I know there are a lot of things to fix here, too.”
Mora used to talk, only half-joking, about wanting to be president of Venezuela. No longer does he even kid about going into politics.
“Two things I don’t want to be in my life: I don’t want to be a coach, unless I be a coach for my kids, and I don’t want to be a politician,” he said.
What he wants to continue to be is a baseball player. He turns 40 in February and is coming off a rough 2011 in which he hit .228 in 127 at-bats for the Diamondbacks. He was in a car accident in spring training, and his brother-in-law, who was like his second father, died during the season.
He believes his time away from the game has helped him focus, and he thinks he could contribute as a regular or a utility player next year.
And, yes, he’d love to come back to the Orioles, for whom he played from 2000 to 2009. He said he likes manager Buck Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette, whom he knew when Duquette ran the Boston Red Sox.
In fact, Mora said, he recently spoke to former Oriole Miguel Tejada, who was cut this season by the San Francisco Giants, and talked about reuniting in Baltimore.
“I said, ‘Why don’t we go back to the Orioles?' And he said, ‘You want to do that?'" Mora said. “I don’t know. I guess we have to see who the general manager of the Orioles is to see if he will take us back.”
That reunion seems unlikely since Duquette is more focused on rebuilding with younger players and not veteran castoffs. But Mora hopes to play somewhere in 2012, hopefully on the East Coast, near his wife, 14-year-old daughter and 10-year-old quintuplets.