Wilson Ramos of the Washington Nationals appears to be the first Major League Baseball player to have fallen victim to what's become an alarming trend in Venezuela: the kidnapping and holding for ransom of the rich. He was grabbed Wednesday by gunmen and hasn't been seen since.
But he's not the first major leaguer to have been touched by the epidemic of kidnappings-for-ransom in Venezuela.
The 24-year-old catcher was taken from his family's home in Santa Ines, Venezuela, by "four gunmen in a pickup truck," according to Kathe Vilera, a spokesman for the Aragua Tigers, the team Ramos is playing for this winter. She posted the news on her official Twitter account.
A short time ago, according to baseball writer Rafael Rojas in Venezuela, police there posted a statement saying that they believe Ramos is alive — perhaps a sign that the kidnappers have made contact.
According to the BBC, there were an estimated 1,179 kidnappings in Venezuela last year. Many others, though, may not have been reported because families quickly gave in to the kidnappers' demands. So, it's possible that Ramos isn't the first player to have been grabbed. Members of the anti-extortion and kidnapping unit of Venezuela's National Guard and members of the country's National Intelligence agency are part of the investigation.
What's certain, however, is that MLB players' families have been targeted. As The Associated Press, reports, "in Venezuela, which is home to dozens of Major League Baseball players, the families of wealthy athletes are periodically targeted by kidnappers in hopes of a hefty ransom."
In 2005, the mother of Detroit Tigers pitcher Ugueth Urbina was rescued at a mountain camp after five months in captivity. In 2009, relatives of retired pitcher Victor Zambrano and catcher Yorvit Torrealba (then of the Colorado Rockies; now with the Texas Rangers) were snatched. All were later released or rescued.
A rising star on Washington's team, Ramos had a .267 batting average this season and hit 15 home runs.
The Nationals issued a statement today saying, in part:
"Our foremost concern is with Wilson Ramos and his family and our thoughts are with them at this time. Major League Baseball's department of investigations is working with the appropriate authorities on this matter. Both Major League Baseball and the Washington Nationals have been instructed to make no further comment."