Sunday, February 23
Spring training is a time to get in shape for the upcoming major league season, work on mechanics or maybe compete for a spot on the team.
For Miguel Cabrera, Felix Hernandez, Elvis Andrus and many other Venezuelan players, it's an even more complicated mix. They have their minds thousands of miles away on civil unrest back home.
Political violence is blamed for at least eight deaths and more than 100 injuries since Feb. 12 in Venezuela, home to 63 players who were on opening day rosters at the beginning of the 2013 season.
Cabrera on Friday tweeted a photo with several teammates, including fellow Venezuelan and new Tigers infield coach Omar Vizquel, posing with two Venezuelan flags and messages in Spanish such as "#WE ARE YOUR VOICE VENEZUELA", "#FAR BUT NOT ABSENT" and "#SOSVENEZUELA".
"Supporting VENEZUELA from here," wrote the two-time AL MVP, born in the central city of Maracay, at the Detroit Tigers' camp in Lakeland, Fla.
Marlins pitcher Henderson Alvarez and several Miami teammates posed on Saturday with a Venezuela flag, holding signs with the word "Peace" in Spanish. The 23-year old right-hander said he brought his wife and 2-month-old daughter to Florida after the baby suffered respiratory problems because of tear gas thrown near their home in Caracas.
"My family in Valencia is fine. My daughter is the one who was affected," said Alvarez, who threw a no-hitter last season. "She was affected by tear gas twice. I sent for her yesterday, I brought her and my wife to Miami."
Valencia, in the northern Venezuelan state of Carabobo, is the hometown of a 22-year-old beauty queen who was slain this week during a political protest.
Government opponents say her death was the result of indiscriminate violence used by President Nicolas Maduro and his supporters to stifle dissent across the country, while the government alleges she was shot by opposition protesters.
Maduro said Venezuelan players were under pressure from the U.S. and their teams to speak out against his government.
"This is just a lie they (the opposition) are telling the world," he said in a speech Saturday. "They've looked and paid for famous artists around the world to say and write these things, the've pressured Venezuelan major leaguers to show up in little photos saying 'SOSVenezuela."
"The major league team owners have pressured our boys," he said.
Andrus, Adrian Beltre and several Texas teammates posed Saturday with Venezuelan flags and signs at camp in Surprise, Ariz. The shortstop said it wasn't a political stand.
"As a fellow Venezuelan, it's the right thing for us to show the support to students to try to bring peace," he said. "I think in the end, it's all about being human beings. And when you're good human beings, you don't want people to get killed, get shot or what's happening right now."
"It's not like we're changing anything or trying to get into the political stuff or political area," he said. "At the end we're not trying to go to any side."
Pitchers Yu Darvish of Japan and Jose Contreras of Cuba joined Andrus and the Rangers in the picture.
"It means a lot, you can see the support that we have, not just from Venezuela ... the Dominican, and Mexico and Japan, see the support that we have from all those countries," Andrus said.
Hernandez, the Seattle ace, is from Valencia.
"I'm kind of worried because my family is over there," he said. "I just want peace. That's all I want, man. Venezuela is a little dangerous; I just want my family to be safe. That's all I want."
Hernandez said he is trying to get bring his mother to the United States.
"My mom is trying to figure out how she's going to get here," the 2010 AL Cy Young winner said at the Mariners' camp in Peoria, Ariz.
Hernandez said it is "really scary" watching images on TV of the clashes between anti- and pro-government forces in the streets of Venezuela. Social media has helped players in Florida and Arizona keep up-to-date with news from home.
"Watching the news here and on Twitter and Instagram, and watching the Spanish channels here," Hernandez said.
Red Sox pitcher Felix Doubront, another native of the state of Carabobo, has his wife and children in Fort Myers, Fla. He's concerned about his mother, father, sister and brother, who all remain in Venezuela, while trying to focus on his job in spring training.
"There's a lot of things I worry about, but there's nothing I can do, just to help my family and protect them from here," said the 26-year old left-hander. "Everybody's talking about Venezuela, but I don't want to lose my focus here."
Chicago White Sox outfielder Avisail Garcia said his parents and sister are back home in Venezuela, and are far from the violence.
"But I worry about my country. Because a lot of people die," he said in Glendale, Ariz. "Hopefully everything gets better."
Washington catchers Wilson Ramos and Jose Lobaton are both from Venezuela.
"We're working right now, but our minds are in Venezuela. It's hard for us to concentrate on what we have to do here, because all the families are over there," Ramos said at the Nationals' camp in Viera, Fla.
"My whole family is good right now. They're safe right now. But I call after practice every day and see how they are feeling, what they are doing," he said. "Every time, I say stay at home, don't go out. Buy a lot of food and stay home. Everything you need, just go real quick to the supermarket and get it and go back home."
Said Lobaton: "I just worry about it. It's my country. I want to see Venezuela good."
"I talk to my family, they say Valencia is pretty bad. That's where I live. They say they've got to stay in the house, because outside you don't know what's going to happen," he said.
Andrus said he has two older brothers in Venezuela. He said he talks to them every day and that they're safe, but they've stayed inside with their families for a couple of days.
"As a human being, you always get angry when you see what's happening with the military back home doing stuff to the civils, and to the students, and that's what really gets me angry," he said.
"I'm not a political guy," he said. "But I just hate when you see somebody just walking and trying to say something get hit by police, or get hit by any military from the country that's supposed to defend the country instead of shoot him or hit him."
AP Sports Writers Tim Booth, Howard Ulman and Stephen Hawkins and AP freelance writers Chuck King, Jack Thompson and Carl Kotala contributed to this report.
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