Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos was freed by Venezuelan commandos, two days after being kidnapped by a group of gunmen in front of his home.
President Hugo Chavez ordered the commando units to free Ramos, who was found in the mountains in Carabobo State, Bloomberg reported.
The event focused new attention on a problem that has simmered for several years. Major league success in the United States means big paydays for even lesser-known players like Ramos, a promising rookie. But that also means the families of athletes, and now the athletes themselves, can become targets for kidnappers who want some of that money.
Ramos was the first major league baseball player to be kidnapped in Venezuela even as family members of professional players have been targeted in recent years. The case highlighted the South American country’s crime problem where murders have almost quadrupled since 1999, according to the Venezuelan Violence Observatory.
It doesn't always end so well.
In 2009, the 11-year-old son of catcher Yorvit Torrealba was kidnapped and returned after a ransom was paid, while the mother of ex-pitcher Victor Zambrano was rescued after being taken. The previous year, the brother of Henry Blanco , another major-league catcher from Venezuela, was shot and killed by kidnappers after being abducted in a Caracas suburb.
Executives from the Nationals and Major League Baseball celebrated Ramos' release. And Venezuelan authorities said that one of the five men arrested in the mountains with Ramos appeared to have connections to Colombian criminal organizations. Ramos himself said he noticed their Colombian accents, CBS News reported.
"I don't know who those people were. I know they're Colombians by their accent," Ramos said. "Three guys grabbed me there in front of my house, they took me to another SUV and from there they took me into the mountains," in central Carabobo state.
He said his abductors spoke little to him. "They simply told me to cooperate, that they were going to ask for a ton of cash for me."
"They put me in a room with a bed. I was lying there," he said. "It was hard for me to think about, if I was going to get out alive first of all ... about how my family, my mother were."
Update: The Washington Post has Ramos' firsthand account of his dramatic rescue, which included "heavy gunfire" between police and his captors.
“It was something super hard,” he said of his dramatic rescue. “There were many shots fired. I couldn’t do anything but get under the bed, to pray, to cry, and then I felt a great relief when I heard the police yell my name. That’s when I responded because I couldn’t even speak.”