BRADENTON, Fla. (KDKA) — In his crouch behind home plate at Lecom Park in Bradenton, Florida, Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Elias Diaz has a lot to think about.
The hitter’s weakness, his pitcher’s strength, the count, the pitch placement, runners on base, and never far from the top of his mind is his mother’s safety back home in Venezuela.
“I try to not think about it. But when I got a moment, my mind is going back,” says Diaz.
Pirates’ closer Felipe Rivero says all the Venezuelan players worry.
“It’s pretty tough what happened to Elias, and you know that that could happen to one of us is pretty tough,” he said.
Diaz, Rivero, Jose Osuna, and Francisco Cervelli are all Venezuelans. Their star athlete status, and paychecks, make their families targets back home in politically-embattled and impoverished Venezuela, for kidnappers trying to make quick money.
Cervelli says, “It’s something we hear every day, and of course, I’m concerned. Everyday something new, and it’s getting worse, and I don’t know when it’s going to end, but it needs to end soon.”
Cervelli worries for his teammates and friends. He got his immediate family out of Venezuela more than a year ago.
Rivero’s family is more of a concern, “but there’s nothing that you can control since it is the government. Whatever is going on down there, we don’t feel safe anymore. ‘Cause anything can happen now.”
Rivero says his whole family remains in Venezuela.
Police say Diaz’s mom was kidnapped by a family friend and six police officers. Police uncovered the scheme and rescued Ms. Soto without any ransom.
Diaz says reassuringly, “Its good. She’s good, my mother is good.”
But his confidence in his homeland is irreparably shattered.
“I’m going to try to get a visa for my mom to move here for a little time. I want to spend time with her here,” he said.
Diaz is trying to get his entire immediate family out of Venezuela and looks forward to the day when Ana Soto is a regular at PNC Park.
“I wanna be on the field, and I want to feel that she’s in the stands watching me play,” he said.
Diaz doesn’t know how long that might take.
Jose Osuna is the fourth Venezuelan on the roster, but he tells KDKA’s John Shumway that his family lives in rural Venezuela so he doesn’t worry, as much.