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Tigers stand in solidarity with loved ones in Venezuela

Cabrera, Perez, Vizquel send message of support amidst worry for families' safety

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Imagine being in a foreign land, pursuing a career that could ensure your family's financial needs for life, while at the same time, thousands of miles away -- in a place where security and crime are constant concerns -- protests and police action had thrown your country and your loved ones into crisis.

Now imagine that everything you say is given a spotlight because of that career, not just where you work, but especially back home, where each statement is parsed and interpreted.

In a situation like the one that Venezuela faces now, that spotlight is more like a microscope. At the same time, the flow of information out is more like a trickle, mainly coming from Twitter and phone calls with family and friends.

So as a group, the dozen Venezuelan Tigers -- including coach Omar Vizquel -- opted for strength in numbers and made a statement Friday morning with a photo and a tweet. They're here, but they're thinking about home.

"All that we want to do is just pray for the safety of the citizens. That's all that we want," Vizquel said. "We want peace to kind of come to town. There is no necessity to use force to tell the people to move around. But it hasn't been the case.

"We feel pretty bad, and we just want to get together, the players here, because we have concern about our family members that are there. And obviously we don't want the situation to escalate. So maybe if they can see that we're all together here, it's just a good message to send to our citizenship."

The message began Friday morning with a Venezuelan flag hung by Victor Martinez over his locker. Across the top, he had written three letters: S.O.S.

Miguel Cabrera took the flag and went to his locker. The Venezuelans gathered at his end of the clubhouse and posed with the aforementioned flag and a larger one. They also included banners with hashtagged messages, some in Spanish, others in English.

Vizquel held up a sign that said #PRAY FOR VENEZUELA. Hernan Perez's sign, "#LEJOS PERO NO AUSENTES," meant, "We are far away, but not absent."

Martinez held up a sign that read, "#SOMOS TU VOZ VENEZUELA," meaning "We are your voice, Venezuela."

Bruce Rondon held up a sign that simply read, "#ESTUDIANTES." Venezuelan students have been demonstrating in support of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who eventually surrendered to police and was placed in jail.

Vizquel and several players tweeted the photo over the course of the day.

Vizquel was born in Caracas, where much of the protests have been centered, and he still has several family members near there, but the unrest has spread to other major cities. Perez said his parents live in Maracay, which is Cabrera's hometown, and he's worried for their safety.

"A lot of my family is over there," Perez said. "It's bad."

However, he said, a lack of information has left his parents asking him what's going on. What began as a series of student protests has now widened to other concerns, from inflation to safety to a scarcity of resources to military authority.

"You can see how the tension has been building up through the days," Vizquel said. "They're trying to scare people. They're taking these F-16 airplanes and flying them around the city and doing everything else. We've been a country that has been very friendly, very happy, but in the last four days, we've never seen a situation that has been this bad."

Said Perez: "They have the arms, they have the guns, they have everything. The other side, they are students. They can't do anything."

The picture, Vizquel said, was a message of support for the people in Venezuela and a call for calm.

"I hope they can come to their senses," Vizquel said. "I mean, just saying something relating to what's going on has nothing to do with us being on one side or the other side. We just want to make sure [people know] that we care, and that we don't want any more death happening in our country. We're all supposed to be brothers, and we cannot kill brothers against brothers. Everybody's the same, and we just don't want that to happen anymore.

"We're supporting the freedom for everyone, the freedom for people going out on the streets and not being invaded or being pushed -- that we can be free, basically, and we won't be afraid to be out on the street buying food and having a good time."

Cabrera did not comment Friday, but he voiced a message of support for the Venezuelan people earlier in the week.

"When we play here, they give us a lot of support. Right now, a lot of players give a lot of support to the people of Venezuela," Cabrera told on Tuesday. "It's kind of hard right now. It's tough. It's a lot of people. You have to be careful with what you say."

The caution comes in part from players' visibility and from the vulnerability their families face. By sending a message together, the Venezuelan Tigers hope their visibility is a strength.

"We need to support them," Perez said. "Baseball players, we are on the TV everywhere. They always support us, so we have to support them, because baseball is so important in Venezuela. It's our country."

Vizquel hopes that message can spread to Venezuelans on other Major League teams.

"I hope so," Vizquel said. "I hope when they see the picture of us, maybe some other teams will start following and start sending messages about peace, just let them know that we're together. Just like a baseball team is together, all the Venezuelans should be together on this and see if we can do something about it."

Jason Beck is a reporter for Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.
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