A matter of trust

Updated: September 29, 2004, 9:29 PM ET
By Tom Farrey | ESPN.com

OCUMARE DEL TUY, Venezuela -- Venezuelan authorities are urging Detroit Tigers pitcher Ugueth Urbina to refuse paying any ransom for the release of his abducted mother, amid concerns that giving in to kidnappers' demands will set a dangerous precedent for other major leaguers and their families here in this baseball-mad country.

Johan Santana's Venezuelan home
Ugueth Urbina's mother was kidnapped earlier this month from his home in a remote Venezuelan town.
"If he pays, that means he doesn't trust us," said Joel Rengifo, director of Venezuela's anti-kidnapping police unit. "And that will affect other ballplayers because kidnappers will see how easy it is to get money. They'll think that if a ballplayer paid, the next one will do the same."

Rengifo has assigned 15 of his division's 80 officers to the case, which he said is being monitored by Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. Although kidnappings have become common in the country, and in other South American nations such as Argentina and Colombia, the crisis has gained considerable attention because of the high profile of Urbina, who helped the Florida Marlins last year win the World Series.

Fear Factor
Watch ESPN.com senior writer Tom Farrey's special report on Venezuelan players' fear for the safety of their family back home.ESPN Motion The full report airs on Outside The Lines on ESPN at 12:58 a.m. ET Tuesday, 9:58 p.m. PT Monday.

En Español para ESPN Deportes:
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• José Hernández informó desde Venezuela Video
Urbina has agreed to not pay a ransom, Rengifo told ESPN.com.

"I don't think Urbina will pay money to them behind our backs," he said.

Urbina has not spoken to the media, but his brother, Nelson, told ESPN.com that there have been no negotiations with the kidnappers, who took their 54-year-old mother Maura Villaroel, on Sept. 1 at the family compound here in this small, dusty town.

Rengifo's division has released sketches of four young men whom officials have identified as the kidnappers. Dressed as policemen, they opened a tall, sliding gate at the family compound, showed a fake search warrant, and left with Urbina's mother in a green Ford Fiesta, according to police. Also abducted was a 19-year-old motorcycle mechanic, Wilson Bolivar, who inadvertently showed up at the complex as the crime was unfolding.

A local police source who has been investigating the crime insisted that negotiations were ongoing and that Urbina was in the process of arranging a payment. One Venezuelan newspaper, El Universal, reported that a $15 million ransom has been made, an account that Rengifo disputed. He said no financial demands had yet been placed. Kidnappings in Venezuela, he added, often take more than a month to bring to resolution.

Ugueth Urbina
After helping the Marlins to a World Series title last year, Ugueth Urbina landed a free-agent contract with the Tigers.
Urbina, a hard-throwing righthander known for his emotional displays on the mound, has made $24.7 million during his 10-year career with Montreal, Boston, Texas, Florida and Detroit.

Urbano Lugo, a retired major league pitcher who played with Urbina in the Venezuelan winter leagues, said he suspects that Urbina would be willing to pay a ransom.

"I think he wants to bring his mother back alive," said Lugo, who is vice president of the Venezuelan Baseball Players Association. "I don't care how much money he has to pay. More important to him is having his mother."

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, a fellow Venezuelan, broke the news of the abduction to his friend, Urbina. Guillen was the third-base coach last year on the same Marlins team that featured Urbina.

"He was really crushed," Guillen said. "He was really scared and felt bad because he wanted to quit baseball last year. Now that this has happened to his mom, he feels guilty, like, 'Wow, if wasn't playing anymore, I would have been there.' "

Urbina flew to Venezuela after learning of the kidnapping, and has yet to return to the team. He has issued no comment to the media.

The Urbina family has endured tragedy before. His father, Juan, was murdered by bandits in a botched robbery attempt in Caracas in 1994. Those who know Urbina say he was close to his father, who supported his son's baseball aspirations since he was young.

"They've already lost the father, so God forbid something happens to his mother," said Giants infielder Edgardo Alfonzo, who played youth league ball with Urbina. "That's why we're just desperate about (getting the mother back)."

Tom Farrey is a senior writer with ESPN.com. He can be reached at tom.farrey@espn3.com.

ESPN producers Willie Weinbaum and Dave Lubbers, and ESPN Deportes reporter Jose Hernandez contributed to this report.

Tom Farrey | email

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