MLB officials believe Ramos is the first major league player to have been abducted, but Venezuela’s rash of kidnappings has directly affected players’ families in the past.
Even so, that has not prevented hundreds of players — American and Venezuelan, experienced major leaguers and hopeful minor leaguers — from traveling to Venezuela to play winter ball. And, even after Ramos’s own ordeal, it will not stop him from playing this winter.
Ramos could begin playing in games next week, perhaps Tuesday, Aragua Tigers spokesman Manuel Rodriguez said. First, though, the Nationals will bring him to Washington for a physical and emotional evaluation.
“Wilson is determined,” Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo said. “He wants to play several games there. But we are going to get him to Washington. We want to give him a full physical from our medical people, and then determine what we’ll do after that.”
While Ramos’s case brought new attention to the dangers of Venezuela for ballplayers, MLB has devoted resources to the issue for years. In 2005, the mother of Venezuelan relief pitcher Ugueth Urbina was kidnapped in the country, and the case persuaded Commissioner Bud Selig to create a task force devoted to the issue.
During the Urbina case, Joel Rengifo Añez, the former head of the Venezuelan police force dedicated to dealing with kidnappings, worked closely with MLB. While working for the government, his reputation earned him the nickname, “The Legend.” He so impressed MLB that it hired him, first as a consultant and now as the full-time head of a unit in Venezuela that includes eight part-time investigators.
When Ramos was taken last week, Rengifio was the first person called by the league’s Department of Investigations. MLB officials believe Rengifo’s precision and numerous contacts led to rapid breakthroughs in the case that helped ensure Ramos’s ultimate safety.
[Wednesday, Venezuelan authorities formally charged eight suspects — six accused of participating in the abduction and two charged as accomplices for allegedly providing food to the group — in Ramos’s kidnapping, according to the Associated Press.]
Rengifo said the government’s quick resolution of Ramos’s kidnapping likely will deter other kidnappers who are considering going after ballplayers.