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Venezuela remains on MLB players' minds

Rallying support for relatives back home a big focus this spring

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The images on Yorvit Torrealba's iPad break his heart.

It pains the Angels catcher to tap on the social media apps when he wakes up in the morning, but he touches the screen, anyway. That's what a patriot does, and nobody loves Venezuela more than Torrealba.

But the hashtags -- #SOSVenezuela, #PrayForVenezuela, #VenezuelaPaz (Peace) #SomoUnidos (We are United) -- hurt him. The photos -- violent clashes between police and students, torn Venezuelan flags and his baseball countrymen standing together in support of a nation in turmoil -- have him worried.

"It's tough, really tough, and all we can do is pray and hope that everything gets better," Torrealba said. "I also tweet and [post on Instagram] for peace, and I hope that helps in some way. It's definitely something we worry about because part of my family is in Venezuela, and it's tough to concentrate and focus here at the same time your mind is with your family members there."

Since the beginning of February, citizens across Venezuela have been protesting against the government, citing a shortage of goods, poor security and lack of freedom of speech for the media. The movement gained the world's attention when three student demonstrators were killed in Caracas on Feb. 12, and it has hit home in clubhouses in the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues.

"We're all concerned about what's going on, especially with the violence in the streets," Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus said. "There are more dead people every single day. That's what we want to stop. We want peace. Everybody has their family down there."

Groups of Venezuelan players on the Mariners, Tigers, Marlins, Rangers, Royals, Mets, Astros and Braves have posed for photos in their clubhouses and put them on Twitter to show their support for the country. The A's are scheduled to take a similar photo on Monday.

"Man, it takes everything away from you inside," Tigers first-base coach Omar Vizquel said. "It's hard to do something and not think about how your family is and how things are going to progress in our country. I'm just hoping for the best right now, hoping that they get together and resolve the situation. All that we want is just the integrity, the respect, the opinion, the expression of people. We don't want to see anybody dead."

The players tweet because they care. They also choose their words carefully.

"My family is OK, but if I go and say something, maybe they'll [take it out] on my family," Philadelphia's Freddy Galvis said. "A few days ago, my father went downtown to go shopping, and some people almost got in a fight with him because I said something on Twitter. It's crazy, man. People fighting each other. I just hope everything can get back like old times."

"I see it this way: When we play here, [the people in Venezuela] give us a lot of support," Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera said. "Right now, a lot of players give a lot of support to the people of Venezuela. 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."

Royals catcher Ramon Hernandez said his loved ones are safe because they live outside of major cities like Caracas and Valencia. He worries about other families who are not as fortunate as he is.

"I talk to [family] almost every day. They're doing good, but the situation is bad. I never thought I'd see something like that, especially in Venezuela," Hernandez said. "The people over there are very calm, but I guess people got tired, they didn't have anything. They go to the supermarket and can't find anything to eat; if your car is broken, you have to wait months because you can't get replacements."

Last week, Marlins pitcher Henderson Alvarez brought his wife and two-month old daughter to the United States ahead of schedule because his baby was having respiratory issues as a result of tear gas shot near his home in Caracas.

More family members could be on their way to the United States.

"I don't know what's going on. I just want peace," Mariners ace Felix Hernandez said. "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."

In the meantime, MLB players will continue to look to their phones, iPads and laptops for answers.

"I've been living in the United States for six years, but Venezuela is my country," Torrealba said. "Those are my people. They are my brothers and sisters in Venezuela. I get up, I get off the field and first thing I do is get on Twitter and Instagram to find out what's going on and if it's getting better or worse. I can't wait until it gets better."

Jesse Sanchez is a national reporter for Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB.
Read More: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Yorvit Torrealba