Mariners' Venezuelan players hope for peace back home
PEORIA, Ariz. -- As Felix Hernandez sat in his locker in the Mariners clubhouse at the Peoria Sports Complex on Saturday, the flag of Venezuela was draped over the adjacent chair.
For Hernandez, springs normally are filled with baseball and more baseball. But this isn't a normal spring for Hernandez or any of the Venezuelan natives participating in Major League camps. For back home in their country, protests are raging, the streets of the major cities are filled with angry students and at least six protesters have been killed by the military and police in recent days.
The political unrest weighs on the minds of Hernandez, who is closely following the news on Twitter, Instagram and Spanish TV.
Hernandez grew up in Valencia, where two of the protesters have been killed. He's seen pictures and video of fires burning in the streets and mobs pushing back against the police.
"It's a big deal," the Mariners ace said Saturday. "I'm a little worried because my family is over there. I don't know what's going on. I just want peace. It's dangerous. I just want my family to be safe. That's all I want. I talked to my mom. I'm trying to figure out how to get her here."
Hernandez posed for a photo Saturday with his Venezuelan teammates holding their flags and signs asking for peace in their homeland, then put the picture on his Twitter account with the message: "Solo queremos PAZ para nuestro pais #PazParaVenezuela,", which translates to "We just want PEACE for our country. #PeaceForVenezuela."
The other Mariners from Venezuela in Major League camp right now are outfielder Endy Chavez, first basemen Jesus Montero and Gabriel Noriega, catchers Manuel Pina, Humberto Quintero and Jesus Sucre, reliever Yoervis Medina and Minor League coach Jose Moreno.
"It's worrisome," said Chavez, who also is from Valencia. "I know a lot is going on over there. I try to be aware and in contact with my family. I expect this all to end soon, but I'm worried because my daughter is over there, too. I have my parents, my daughter, my cousins."
Chavez, 36, watches the news and tries to understand how this can be happening in his hometown.
"It's not easy. It's hard to believe," Chavez said. "I know there are things we need to work on, as people, as human beings, to make things better."
Montero is another Venezuelan wondering and worrying.
"It's crazy," said the young first baseman. "I've never seen anything like it in 24 years. The government is killing people. My parents live in a small town about 10 minutes outside Valencia, so thank God they're safe. The bad stuff is in the cities. But it's sad. It's hard to see. Somebody needs to do something to stop this."
Hernandez knows he needs to focus on baseball and his job and says that isn't an issue when he's working. But he's human. And the situation in his country cannot be ignored, not when friends and family in the city where he spends time every offseason are dealing with such an ugly reality that seems a million miles from the serenity of the practice fields in Peoria.
"That's the hardest part because you're here and you're safe, but they're over there and they don't know what's going on," Hernandez said. "I tell them to stay home, don't go out, stay safe."
And when he sees the pictures from back home?
"I just think, 'Wow,'" Hernandez said. "How did this happen?"