Jose Lobaton did not intend to make a political statement this morning when he pulled on a tri-color hat in the red, yellow and blue of the Venezuelan flag. He only wanted to make his support known. He wants the violence in the native country he shares with fellow Nationals Wilson Ramos, Sandy Leon, Gabe Alfaro and Felipe Rivero to end. He wants his family and friends to be safe. He wants, for once, good news from his home.
Waves of rallies, by both supporters and protesters of President Nicholas Maduro’s government, have caused widespread violence across Venezuela. At least 10 have died in clashes, according to reports. For Venezuelan players with the Nationals and across the league, the strife feels both helplessly far away painfully close. “My mind is in Venezuela,” Ramos said. The Nationals players call home every day and urge their families to stay inside. As chaos engulfs major cities in their country, they are trying to focus on baseball at spring training.
“It’s in our mind,” Lobatons said. “We have five guys here from Venezuela. We’ve got that in mind all the time. But we’ve got to separate from baseball. This is our job. Every day, we are just waiting for good news, that everything is over. I don’t really like to talk about politics. I just want for Venezuela – everything is so dangerous, we just want something good, every day. It’s hard to say a lot of things about the government now, all this stuff, I don’t really like to talk about it. We’re just praying for Venezuela.”
Lobaton and his Venezuelan teammates, he said, do not mention the troubles back home during their three-hour practices. Otherwise, they scour the internet and Twitter for updates. They call home and ask their families about the accuracy of reports; the state-run media makes it difficult to know for sure. Publicly, they do not pick sides. They only want an end to violence.
“Me, Wilson, Sandy – I speak for those guys,” Lobaton said. “We just want people to be safe. We don’t want no more dead people. You see a lot of things tweeted and on the Internet. We’re like, ‘What is this?’ If it’s Maduro there or it’s not, we don’t care. We just care that everything is safe.”
Lobaton, Ramos and Leon have been checking in with their family members still in Venezuela every day. They say they are safe.
“It is hard, because there is nothing you can do,” Lobaton said. “You want to say, ‘Stop. Don’t do it anymore. We don’t want that.’ But there’s nothing we can do. The only thing we can do is pray for them and wait for something good. Right now, we’re just talking every day about, what do you see? If I see something bad or something good, please talk about it. The next day, in the other city, it’s dangerous now. I don’t want people to get killed. We’re Venezuelans. We’re brothers. We’re friends. We’re family.
“I don’t know how to explain. Something inside you is like, ‘What is this?’ I want to go there. That’s my country. I want to stay there. I want to live there. But not like that. Right now, I heard that everybody is in the house. My family, I told them, ‘Don’t go out. Stay there. I don’t want something to happen to you.’
“Valencia has been really bad. My wife has got family in Valencia. From the apartment, they see people in the street. They see a lot of stuff I don’t want to mention. I’m like, ‘It’s like that? It’s that bad?’ Hopefully, it will change and people can shake hands. Peace – that’s what we want. It’s hard to say something about Venezuela. I don’t want to say something bad. I don’t want to say it’s a perfect country. I know Venezuela is beautiful. Some people don’t like the government. Some people like it. Me, a player, a guy that works here, I’m kind of like, ‘No, that’s nothing for me.’ I just want peace. That’s peace. That’s all we need. That’s all Venezuela needs, is peace.”