As Spring Training continues, players remain mindful of crisis in Venezuela

Venezuela was mired in gloom for more than 74 hours last weekend. The South American country went through its longest blackout of the modern era. More than two dozen deaths were attributed to problems associated with the blackout.

According to José Manuel Olivares, a deputy of Venezuela’s National Assembly, there had been 21 deaths that were caused partially by the lack of electricity in Venezuelan hospitals until electricity was partially restored in many of the regions Sunday. Several supermarkets were looted in Caracas, where bags of ice were going for up to $10.

Thousands of miles away in Florida and Arizona, 148 Venezuelans participated in spring training while worrying about family and friends back home. Social networks have become a necessity for those born in the land of Bolívar.

“Frankly, it’s something difficult with what we have to deal with,” said Milwaukee Brewers slugger Jesús Aguilar, a native of Maracay, Venezuela. “We are professionals and we go out to do our job like everyone else, but it is inevitable to wonder if your relatives in Venezuela could eat or if they are well during the blackout.”

It has been a turbulent year for Venezuelans. Economically they are immersed in an inflationary spiral with a projected 10 percent drop in the economy in 2019, according to figures from the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Politically and socially, the panorama is not more encouraging. More than 54 countries, including the United States and part of the European Union, refuse to recognize Nicolás Maduro’s regime. Some countries recognize Juan Guaidó, the president of the National Assembly, as Venezuela’s leader.

The turmoil in Venezuela is a constant concern in the Brewers’ clubhouse this spring, considering there are seven players and one Venezuelan in camp.

“I am of the opinion that we must not mix sports with politics,” Aguilar said. “However, there are issues in which we can’t remain silent like the request for humanitarian aid, which is something we all need.

“We can’t turn our backs on what is happening because we are human. We talk about it even in batting practice. When we get to the clubhouse, it’s really hard.”


It is not the first time that Venezuelan players have expressed serious concern about what happened in their native country. Since widespread protests against the Maduro regime in 2014, several players have called attention to the problems back home on social media by using the hashtag #SOSVENEZUELA.

Late last month, several Venezuelans throughout the majors used their social media platforms to urge their country’s armed forces to let humanitarian aid enter from the border with Brazil.

Through their respective accounts Willson Contreras (@willsoncontreras40), Miguel Cabrera (@Miggy24), Ender Inciarte (@enderinciartem) and Alcides Escobar (@alcidesescobar2) have been among those who have most echoed messages alluding to the Venezuelan situation.

Francisco Cervelli, who expressed his political stance in an article published in The Players Tribune in 2017, issued a recent statement on Instagram pleading with the United Nations to help Venezuela.

More difficult in the province

Electricity was partially restored in parts of Caracas by Monday morning. Other regions remained in darkness. Maracaibo, the second most populous city in Venezuela with 5,197,389 people, according to the 2009 census, has been hit particularly hard.

Maracaibo, which is the birthplace of Hall of Famer Luis Aparicio, Inciarte and Carlos González, has gone four days without electricity. Some shops in that city have been vandalized.

Oakland Athletics first base coach Alfredo Pedrique, the man who signed former American League MVP Jose Altuve, has had his countrymen constantly on his mind this spring.

He is from Maracay, which is only 75 miles away from the Venezuelan capital of Caracas.

“They have been very difficult days,” Pedrique said. “Obviously you are here working for your career, but it is impossible to stop thinking about Venezuela, our families and how difficult this situation has been for everyone.

“Being away does not mean that you are not aware of what is happening in our country. We are very concerned about this. We are praying to the Lord for a change.”

Featured Image: Willson Contreras Instagram