“The truth is I’m still very nervous, but thanks to God everything turned out well,” Ramos said, shortly after his 3 a.m. arrival at his mother’s house, where a joyous crowd of well-wishers had gathered after receiving news of his release.
“Thank God, I’m alive and here at home,” Ramos, 24, told the crowd, which had waited five hours for his arrival. “I thank you for everything. I don’t have words to express all that I feel, and how thankful I am for all your help. Thank you, for real. I really love you.”
He told state television the final moments of his captivity had been hair-raising as police and the kidnappers exchanged heavy fire in the remote mountainous area where he was being held.
News of his release touched off impromptu celebrations at ballfields across Venezuela and tears and screams of joy by friends and family gathered at his home.
“Thank you and thank everyone, thanks to God, thanks to God, thanks to the whole country,” said Maria Campos, Ramos’s mother. “I just heard everyone yell.”
Ramos was found in the town of Montalban in the state of Carabobo in central Venezuela, said Andres Izarra, the government’s communications minister. The area is roughly 40 miles northwest of Ramos’s family’s home in Valencia, where four men abducted him Wednesday evening, dragging him into a vehicle at gunpoint.
Detroit Tigers star slugger Miguel Cabrera, a Venezuelan native, called Ramos’s home at roughly 9:50 p.m. Friday and spoke with Ramos’s sister, Milangela Ramos. Cabrera told a disbelieving Milangela to call Venezuelan Interior Minister Tareck El Aissami. When she did, El Aissami told her: “I have good news. Your brother has been released.”
Details about how Ramos was freed were sketchy, as were the reasons for his abduction. Venezuelan authorities have taken three detainees in connection with Ramos’s abduction, El Aissami told reporters.
Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said he had spoken with Ramos by phone and that he was unharmed.
“I join Wilson in thanking the many law enforcement officials in Venezuela and investigators with Major League Baseball who worked tirelessly to ensure a positive ending to what has been a frightening ordeal,” Rizzo said in a statement. “The entire Washington Nationals family is thankful that Wilson Ramos is coming home.”
The rescue of Ramos ended more than two days of praying and waiting by the family for any word from the gunmen who had abducted the 24-year-old catcher. Ramos just completed his first full season with the Nationals.
“They got him,” Gustavo Mercano, Ramos’s agent, said in a phone conversation from Ramos’s house shortly after receiving news of his freedom. “He’s safe. It’s a special moment for his family. We’re all happy. We’re grateful.”
In the background, Ramos’s family could be heard chanting, “Wil-son! Wil-son!”
After she learned Ramos had been found, Campos spoke to her son over the phone. “Mama, I love you,” she said he told her. “Mama – I’m good. They freed me. They rescued me.”
“He’s happy,” Campos said. “Just like us.”
Outside the family’s humble, one-floor home, hundreds of people lined the street. Inside, the concrete floors and pastel walls housed a even more joyous celebration.
Family, friends and journalists packed the home.
“I talked to my son and told him, ‘Son we’re so happy to have you with us again,’ ” Abraham Ramos, his father, said. “We have all been united. Very united.”
More celebrations erupted across Venezuela, a country where kidnapping has long been a scourge. The news blared over public address systems at baseball stadiums, where teams played in the Venezuelan winter league.
Earlier in the evening, in Washington, supporters held a candlelight vigil outside the center field gate of Nationals Park, praying for one of the team’s best young players to return home safe.
The Nationals received confirmation of his release from George Hanna, Major League Baseball’s director of investigations, shortly after 10 p.m.
Venezuelan authorities had been working in concert with MLB’s Department of Investigations for two days, ramping up efforts Friday morning.
Details about the case had been slow to trickle out. More than 48 hours after Ramos was taken, his captors still had not contacted Ramos’s family concerning a ransom.
Police found a second vehicle believed to have been used in the abduction during the day Friday, and they prepared to release sketches of two of the gunmen.
Despite the absence of news, Venezuelan officials expressed confidence they were making progress in the investigation. Late Friday, their hopes came to fruition.
This past season, in his first full major league season, Ramos performed like one of the best rookies in baseball, supplanting future Hall of Famer Ivan Rodriguez, his childhood idol, as the Nationals’ regular catcher.
He hit .267 with 15 home runs and a .438 slugging percentage, numbers that made him one of the Nationals’ most valuable and most promising players.
One of Ramos’s proudest moments came in early September. His mother and sister made their first trip to the United States, and for the first time they watched Ramos play in the major leagues.
They sat in the stands at Nationals Park, and his mother made Ramos arepas, corncakes popular in Venezuela, as she stayed in his apartment.
“It was very, very awesome,” Ramos said then. “The first day, when my mom came, she was crying. She was crying when she saw me play the other day. It’s awesome. For her to see me play here, it’s awesome. I feel happy, very happy.”
Kilgore reported from Washington.