Urbina reported to spring training Tuesday

Updated: February 24, 2005, 10:44 AM ET
Associated Press

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Ugueth Urbina planned to report to spring training, even if his kidnapped mother still was being held. He didn't want to show her captors that he was weak.

Now that Maura Villarreal is safe following a rescue operation Friday, Urbina said an indescribable weight has been lifted from his shoulders.

"I feel like I'm 18 years old," the Detroit Tigers reliever said Wednesday, speaking publicly about the ordeal for the first time.

Villarreal, 54, was rescued by Venezuelan police during an eight-hour raid that left two of her abductors dead, two captured and seven others as fugitives. Police described the kidnappers as Venezuelan and Colombian drug smugglers.

She was held for five months, 18 days in a camp that police called a drug-traffickers' hideout in Venezuela's southern mountains.

Urbina and his two brothers, Ulmer and Ulises, were at a loss.

"There wasn't much we could do. We'd never been in this situation, and we didn't know where she was," Urbina said. "Where can you go to try to find her? She could be anywhere. It's hard.

"It's not like the movies. It's real life."

Urbina talked Wednesday about the September abduction, subsequent telephone conversations with his mother's captors, their demand for ransom, about living through the months she was held captive and about his emotional reunion with her Friday.

He also spoke about what it was like to find out the ordeal was over.

"At the moment, you freeze. You don't know what to do, whether to jump and be happy. It's something I hope nobody goes through.

"It's hard to talk about that."

Urbina had left the Tigers and returned to his home in Caracas, Venezuela, following the Sept. 1 abduction. The abductors first contacted Urbina's younger brother, Ulmer, but when they obtained Ugueth's cell phone number, they spoke directly to him.

"It's easy in Venezuela to get cellular phone numbers," Urbina said. "They called me and they said, 'We're the people that have the package.' "

He spoke to her kidnappers six times, but it wasn't until the last conversation in mid-December that they asked him for a $6 million ransom.

Police advised him how to talk to the abductors, saying he should not anger them.

"You don't know what they will do," he said. "You try to stay calm. That was pretty rough to do."

After each conversation, though, he knew his mother still was alive because he would ask the kidnappers questions only she could answer.

Villarreal told reporters in Venezuela that the most hurtful thing was listening to her captors' taunts that her wealthy son did not love her because he did not pay the ransom.

Urbina said he was willing to pay, if it came to that.

"Of course," he said. "For your mother, you'd do anything."

But after the December conversation, he didn't hear from the kidnappers again. That made the waiting even harder.

"You expect a call every day," he said.

He was at a basketball game in Caracas on Friday when Ulmer called to notify him of the rescue. Urbina had heard that twice before.

"I told my brother, 'When you see her, you call me. Then I'll believe it."'

Before his brother called back, Venezuelan television reported that his mother had been rescued and people at the basketball game told him about the reports.

Still, he waited until Ulmer called 20 minutes later before allowing himself to believe it.

"It took me about two minutes" to get to the police station, where he was reunited with his mother.

"The first time I saw my mom and the way she looked physically, that moment is like, `Wow!' " he said. "I hugged my mom and we talked.

"You think about when I see her I'm going to do this, or I'm going to do that, but when you really see her, you're like shocked. It's hard."

Urbina said his mom lost about 50 pounds during her captivity. He hasn't discussed with her about her time as a captive.

"We're trying to not talk about it so she can forget about it as soon as she can," he said.

Villarreal will receive counseling for about a month, Urbina said, then he's sending her to Europe for awhile before bringing her to the United States.

Eventually, he said, she plans to return to Venezuela because it's her home.

"I'm trying to send her everywhere to keep her mind busy, but she'll want to go back," he said. "That's the way she is."

Urbina arrived in Miami from Venezuela on Monday night, rented a car and left for the four-hour drive to Lakeland at 2 a.m.

"I want to show people I'm fine, I'm ready," he said.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press