Feb 23, 2014, 3:01 PM EDT
VIERA, Fla. — For three hours each morning, the five Venezuelan members of the Nationals’ roster allow their minds to be consumed only with baseball. Wilson Ramos, Jose Lobaton and Sandy Leon can focus on their catching skills and working with the club’s pitching staff. Gabriel Alfaro and Felipe Rivero can concentrate on their bullpen sessions and fielding techniques.
The rest of the day is spent thinking about matters of far more significance. As violence and political unrest escalate throughout their home country, the Venezuelan Nationals can’t help but worry about the safety of their families.
“We’ve got that in mind all the time,” Lobaton said. “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.”
Lobaton joined his fellow countrymen, plus Colombian catcher Jhonatan Solano, in the Space Coast Stadium bullpen Sunday afternoon, holding up Venezuelan flags and handwritten signs asking for an end to the violence and seeking prayers for the country.
They are quick to point out they’re not trying to make any political statement or take sides either with Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro or the opposition groups that together are causing the unrest that to date has resulted in 10 deaths and more than 100 injuries.
“We just want people to be safe,” Lobaton said. “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.”
Major-league ballplayers are high-profile figures in Venezuela, and that often makes them and their families targets for violence. Ramos himself was kidnapped two winters ago, rescued by police after a harrowing 2 1/2 days that became an international story.
The Nationals’ players say they try to remain in constant contact their families, instructing them to stay in their homes for fear of what might happen if they set foot outside.
“I told them: ‘Don’t go out,'” Lobaton said. “‘Stay there. I don’t want something to happen to you.'”
The Venezuelan players get their news any way they can, whether talking to family members, watching TV or scouring the internet. But they can never be sure how accurate the information is, with proponents of each side likely exaggerating elements of the news to help their respective causes.
Ultimately, though, it’s a helpless feeling for Lobaton and the others. They’re thousands of miles away, trying to stay focused on baseball, all the while worried about what is happening back home.
“We’re brothers. We’re friends. We’re family,” Lobaton said. “Families never fight. Right now, you see that. 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.”
COUNTDOWN TO OPENING DAY
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MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.
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