I always thought Thomas Wolfe was full of it. You can go home again. I’ve been doing it for years, spending all my vacation time with my family in Kansas, whether my family in Kansas liked it or not.
Yet my first thought when I saw the news of Wilson Ramos’s kidnapping was, “What the heck is he doing spending the offseason in Venezuela, for God’s sake?” And my second thought was, “Come on, Tracee, could you be more unfair?”
As homes go, Kansas and Venezuela have little in common. I’m never been in any great danger of being kidnapped; tornadoes are probably the biggest threat, and although they are usually pretty random, one does occasionally try to drop a house on me.
Kidnapping in Venezuela, on the other hand, is a growth industry. It’s a real and present danger, and it’s no joking matter: Relatives of two major leaguers have been killed during kidnappings there in recent years.
Yet Venezuelan ballplayers return every winter. Ramos wants to stay and play winter ball there, even in the wake of being held for 50 hours in a remote mountain hideout, even after being rescued in a hail of gunfire. Afterward, he returned to his village, to his mother’s house.
I can’t fault Ramos, 24, for wanting to go home. Major league ballplayers from overseas spend at least 71 / 2 months of the year in the States, more if they are lucky enough to make the playoffs. For a player such as Ramos, that’s a long time away from family and friends.
So why not move his family to America? He made $415,000 last year, which is good money, but after his agent’s cut and taxes, it might be enough to bring his parents. That leaves his siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles — all the rest of his extended family, which by all accounts is close — in Venezuela, where they’d still have targets on their backs, because of him. That wouldn’t be an easy thing to live with.
And family, of course, isn’t the only thing that makes a home. I want to be in Kansas to see my family, immediate and extended, and my friends. I also want to be in Kansas to see . . . Kansas. I understand it’s flyover country to many of you, but it’s in my blood. I can’t explain it, and if you’d told me 30 years ago I’d feel this way, I’d have laughed myself silly while driving north as fast as I could, but it’s true. The heart wants what the heart wants.
Ramos’s heart wants to be in Venezuela. It seems cruel to tell him he can’t be. It also seems a bit hypocritical, given the existence of the Venezuelan winter leagues. Major League Baseball has set up offseason ball in a country that had 895 kidnappings last year.
The players in the winter leagues aren’t the highest paid in baseball, but they are major league baseball players. When the kidnappers make ransom demands, they aren’t hoping the player’s family comes up with $10 million to $15 million; they are hoping the team or MLB does. Ramos is the first major leaguer to be snatched in Venezuela, but I wouldn’t bank on him being the last. Forget putting a fox in the henhouse (Kansas expression); they’ve put a lot of hens in a country teeming with foxes.
What’s the answer? You can’t tell a player how to live. Oh, you can try. Teams will put clauses in contracts instructing their stars not to ride motorcycles — and then the star will injure himself on a jet ski. You certainly can’t tell a player not to return to Venezuela as long as you are sending players there to participate in winter league ball.
But why not provide more security than the iron gate at the Ramos family home, which was apparently left open? Why shouldn’t MLB and the Venezuelan government, in whose best interest it is to stop these kidnappings, provide bodyguards for players in Venezuela, a visible, armed deterrent to invisible, armed kidnappers?
Wilson Ramos deserves to be able to go home, and he deserves to be safe while he’s there.