Spring training is a time to get in shape for the upcoming major league season, work on mechanics or maybe compete for a spot on the team.
For Miguel Cabrera, Felix Hernandez, Elvis Andrus and many other Venezuelan players, it is an even more complicated mix. They have their minds thousands of kilometers away on civil unrest back home.
Political violence is blamed for at least eight deaths and more than 100 injuries since Feb. 12 in Venezuela, home to 63 players who were on opening day rosters at the beginning of last year’s season.
Cabrera on Friday tweeted a photograph with several teammates, including fellow Venezuelan and new Tigers infield coach Omar Vizquel, posing with two Venezuelan flags and messages in Spanish such as “We are your voice Venezuela,” “Far but not absent” and “SOSVenezuela.”
“Supporting VENEZUELA from here,” wrote the two-time AL MVP, born in the central city of Maracay, at the Detroit Tigers’ camp in Lakeland, Florida.
Marlins pitcher Henderson Alvarez and several Miami teammates posed on Saturday with a Venezuela flag, holding signs with the word “Peace” in Spanish. The 23-year old right-hander said he brought his wife and two-month-old daughter to Florida after the baby suffered respiratory problems because of tear gas thrown near their home in Caracas.
“My family in Valencia is fine. My daughter is the one who was affected,” said Alvarez, who threw a no-hitter last season. “She was affected by tear gas twice. I sent for her yesterday, I brought her and my wife to Miami.”
Valencia, in the northern Venezuelan state of Carabobo, is the hometown of a 22-year old beauty queen who was slain this week during a political protest.
Government opponents say her death was the result of indiscriminate violence used by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and his supporters to stifle dissent across the country.
At a news conference on Friday night, Maduro said Venezuelan players were under pressure from the US and their teams to speak out against his government.
Andrus and several Texas teammates posed on Saturday with Venezuelan flags and signs at camp in Surprise, Arizona. The shortstop said it was not a political stand.
“As a fellow Venezuelan, it’s the right thing for us to show the support to students to try to bring peace,” he said. “I think in the end, it’s all about being human beings. And when you’re good human beings, you don’t want people to get killed, get shot or what’s happening right now.”
“It’s not like we’re changing anything or trying to get into the political stuff or political area,” he said. “At the end we’re not trying to go to any side.”
Pitchers Yu Darvish of Japan and Jose Contreras of Cuba joined Andrus and the Rangers in the picture.
“It means a lot, you can see the support that we have, not just from Venezuela ... the Dominican, and Mexico and Japan, see the support that we have from all those countries,” Andrus said.