Dreading the winter ahead


Long considered a valuable mechanism for the offseason development and conditioning of players, the Venezuelan winter league is expected to see a drop in the participation of major leaguers as a result of the kidnapping of Ugueth Urbina's mother.

About 40 major leaguers, most of them natives of the country, play each year for at least part of the winter league season, usually for a month or so before spring training.

"It's going to have a big impact," said Angel Vargas, president of the Venezuelan Baseball Players Association. "It's going to have a domino effect, definitely. I think most of the players won't be coming to play here."

If the major leaguers stay away, league attendance could drop as much as 20 percent, Vargas said. He contends the league will survive, however.

The Venezuelan league took a hit two years ago when the season was canceled due to nationwide labor strikes. The games returned last year with the help of $5 million in aid from the federal government. Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, who like Cuban leader Fidel Castro and U.S. president George W. Bush, is a huge baseball fan.

Major League Baseball has dispatched a security official to Venezuela to monitor the Urbina crisis.

Some Venezuelan players ESPN.com spoke with indicated a desire to stay away from league -- and some cases the nation itself - in an effort to protect themselves from becoming targets of crime. Others haven't made up their minds. A sampling of opinions from players and major league officials:

Bobby AbreuBobby Abreu, Phillies outfielder: "I'm afraid right now. I don't even know what could happen to my family ... because I can be in that situation, too."

Edgardo AlfonzoEdgardo Alfonzo, San Francisco Giants infielder: "I like my country and I would like to go over there and spend time with my family and (friends), but if things are going to be like that, I mean, the last thing you want to do is go home."

Ruben Amaro Jr., Phillies assistant GM: "The hope is that this (kidnapping) is something that would not occur on a regular basis. Obviously if it does and it starts to become a major problem, then there may be other people or other organizations, as well as ours, that have to think twice about how we're going to handle these sorts of issues."

Miguel Garcia, Boston Red Sox scout in Venezuela: "If I was a player, I would think twice about coming down here to play."

Ozzie GuillenOzzie Guillen, White Sox manager: "Just make sure you have a lot of people around you every day. I don't believe in private security because they might be the first one to set you up."

Urbano Lugo, Venezuelan Baseball Players Association vice president: "It's going to be hard for players in Venezuela. Some might stay in the (U.S.). If they come over here, it should be with bodyguards."

Johan SantanaJohan Santana, Twins pitcher: "If I have the chance to do it, I will play. I always love to play there, but sometimes you get into situations where your team will not allow you to play."

Tomas PerezTomas Perez, Phillies infielder: "I'm a little nervous to go back to my country, but it is my country and I would not change that for anything. Hopefully nothing happens to my family. I will try not to go out too much, and instead just play baseball and stay in my hotel."

Perez, however, also says, "It is very possible that we may move my entire family, particularly my wife and daughter to the United States. We are going to wait until the New Year to try to relocate them so that my whole family can come here and leave Venezuela for a little while until the situation straightens out once and for all."

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

ESPN producer Dave Lubbers contributed to this report.