Wilson Ramos’s safety brings some much-needed good news

Thomas Boswell
Columnist November 12, 2011

This winter, fans in various cities will say that their prayers have been answered when free agents like Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder sign huge contracts. But they just mean wishes.

Nowhere will that expression actually be literal, or as powerfully felt, as in Washington now that Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos, who needed to be saved, not signed, has been rescued from kidnappers by commandos after a gunfight in the mountains of Venezuela.

Tom Boswell is a Washington Post sports columnist. View Archive

“The truth is I’m still very nervous, but thanks to God everything turned out well,” Ramos said after his 3 a.m. arrival Saturday morning at his mother’s house.

“Thank God, I’m alive and here at home,” Ramos, 24, to the crowd that had been waiting five hours for his arrival. “I thank you for everything. I don’t have words to express all that I feel.”

That goes for a lot of people, and far beyond his Nationals teammates and the club itself. For nearly three days, many people have cringed as they glanced to see the latest news because they knew it was life-or-death, not win or lose. With the huge rise in kidnappings for ransom in Venezuela, including the killing of relatives of two big league players, no one knew if this tormented wait would last days or months, as it has in some cases; and no one could knew if it would end with a payoff, a firefight or a murder.

Perhaps worst, Ramos couldn’t know which outcome would be his. If 50 hours seemed like an eternity to people in Washington and around baseball, only Ramos can know how interminable it must have felt to be snatched by armed gunmen from his family’s home, driven away in an SUV, moved to a different vehicle, then taken to a remote mountain hideaway when he lay in a room with a bed.

The Nationals immediately contacted the State Department, the Venezuelan consulate and everyone else who might give them a sense of what general manager Mike Rizzo called the “the MO” of Venezuealan kidnappings that involved well-known athlete’s families.

“After a kidnapping, we were told that, in the next couple of hours, you usually hear the demands [for money],” said Rizzo. “This was a professional crew.. . . So, after 24 hours passed and there’d been no word, then 48 hours, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried.. . .

“There was so much relief and thankfulness when we got the word he was safe. It’s been very emotional, stressful for everybody,” added Rizzo. “I spoke with him late, late, late [Friday] night. He sounded great — his voice strong.. . . We’re going to get him back here to Washington for a physical, then we’ll sit down and decide what to do [about going back to play in Venezuela this winter].”

“They didn’t physically harm me, but psychologically I underwent very great harm,” Ramos has been quoted as saying after his return.

If security is adequate in Venezuela, perhaps professionals who deal with those who’ve been rescued should be consulted on whether or not it might be better for Ramos to squat behind home plate figuring out pitch sequences than sitting at home thinking about two days as a captive.

Once, TV and movies dealt with kidnappings, serial killers and off-the-chart horrors as a change of pace. Now, it requires a scavenger hunt to find a form of entertainment that does not involve such topics, unless a plague or killer meteor seems likely to draw more viewers.

We think our senses have been deadened, that we can’t be shocked and, perhaps, that we’re even losing the ability to empathize with others when we watch slaughter as our family fare. Then, the Ramos kidnapping knocks that thinking on its back.

At least for those who follow the Nationals or sports, the word “kidnapped” takes on all the terrifying weight that it deserves when it happens to someone whose face we recognize, for whom we’ve cheered or heard interviewed, whose batting stance we might even be able to imitate. Maybe it’s not like the person next door, but the danger feels real and close.

This has been a week that wrung large emotions out of millions of people who have never, and will never, speak to any of the people involved. Under the pall of minute-by-minute news from Penn State, from the tragedy of child victims to the disgrace of a revered coach, this hardly seemed like a Saturday morning that you’d wake up, take the first sip of coffee, look at the computer, see the word “Ramos” at the top of the page — and cheer. I forced myself to reread the headline “rescued” to make sure I wasn’t just wishing.

There will be plenty of time to praise the rescuers, to discuss whether other players should risk winter ball in Venezuela (Ramos says he intends to stay and play; it’s his country) and even to grasp how his abduction brought into focus just how vital Ramos — the ballplayer — is to the Nats future.

Maybe you don’t fully grasp the phrase “core player” until, after you’ve worked through some of the human emotions, you think, “It could be a generation before they have a catcher again with that promising a future.”

For now, we just get to feel good — wonderful, actually — that Ramos is back in our world. There is another world, at the edges of any kind of law, or completely beyond any hint of safety or control. A war zone would qualify.

But where Ramos has been, in a mountain hideout with kidnappers, knowing that, in recent years, two relatives of major leaguers have been snatched for ransom, but ended up being killed, must be an entirely different level of isolation and danger. That’s over for him now and also over for family, friends and teammates who worried about him — alternating between imagining his plight, then trying to stop imagining it.

On down the line, some level of strain and anxiety has been lifted from who knows how many people who simply felt drawn into Ramos’s danger, even ended for everyone who, emotionally, feels connected the whole Nationals community

They say that some Presidents have read the sports page first because it was the place they had a 50-50 chance to find good news. That hasn’t been the case recently. It is now. Wilson Ramos was saved. Feel free to rejoice.

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