Wilson Ramos

Not even Ramos himself can be exactly sure of the events that led to his rescue in Venezuela back in November. Photo courtesy Rob Carr/Getty Images North America

Did you hear about how Seal Team Six, the same special forces unit that took out Osama Bin Laden, rescued Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos from the grips of desperate criminals in Venezuela? No? Okay, how about how Wilson Ramos freed himself from said criminals and fought his way out of the Venezuelan forest in a way that could only envy Chuck Norris? Haven’t heard that one either, huh? It’s because it’s probably not true.

What is true, however, is that no one can be exactly sure how Ramos, who actually was kidnapped in his native Venezuela back in November, managed to come back to his loved ones safely in one piece. So you can call me a liar if I told you Seal Team Six did it or even Ramos himself, but you can’t show me proof to the contrary.
In a story that was known beforehand, but only recently publicized by a major piece in Sports Illustrated, the events surrounding Ramos’ capture and eventual release from Venezuelan thugs are being questioned by more than just the wildest of conspiracy theorists.
According to the “official” record, Venezuelan authorities learned of where the band of criminals were holding Ramos deep in the jungle and launched a courageous raid on the compound to rescue the locally born MLB catcher. A fierce firefight broke out as the two sides exchanged gunfire for several minutes. Then, miraculously, the brave policemen brought Ramos out of the jungle and home to his family and friends.
The only problem with that account is that the police down in Venezuela are, at best, highly incompetent, and, at worse, criminals themselves. In fact, in the South American nation there is a running joke that goes something along the lines of, “if you are robbed, don’t shout because the police might come.”
In fact, according to the Sports Illustrated article, almost one third of all crimes in Venezuela are committed by members of the police force themselves. So it goes without saying that one would be foolish to assume that that same police force ran into the jungle like Bruce Willis in Tears of the Sun to save one kidnapped individual, no matter who he was.
But lost in the cumbersome cloud of mystery surrounding the Ramos case is the real moral of the story: when the stars of America go abroad, they are just as vulnerable as everyone else. Here, stateside, we treat our professional athletes much the same way we treat our movie stars and rock gods. The combination of a high profile and often even higher security leads to crimes against such people being few and far between. And, when they do occur, the crimes are rigorously investigated.

Wilson Ramos

Photo courtesy Christian Petersen/Getty Images

But not every nation holds their celebrities in the same regard, nor does every nation have as advanced or as loyal law enforcement agencies protecting their citizens. And, unfortunately, whenever someone so famous or so closely tied with “big money” goes overseas, it only makes them a more appetizing target for brazen criminals.

The fact that MLB clubs scout talent so aggressively outside of the United States only makes Major League Baseball better in the long run. But like everything else in this world, strategies that bring great advantages come with equally large liabilities. More often than not, it is up to these athletes to hire their own personal security to keep them safe when they want to return to their native home.
The problem with this is that not every professional athlete is a target nor can they all afford private security. Every minor league baseball player is, by definition, a professional athlete. The same is true with anyone in the NBA’s D-League or on an NFL Practice Squad. Most of these professional athletes can’t afford their own private security and quite honestly, don’t need it. Superstars, on the other hand, have as much money as they do publicity and do “roll deep” with a big posse wherever they go. No one should really be too concerned with Albert Pujols getting kidnpped anytime soon. It is, as the case of Wilson Ramos shows, professional athletes that are just on the verge of super stardom that are the most vulnerable—that sweet spot where fame and it’s needed protection haven’t quite yet converged.
Some will chalk what happened to Ramos up as an isolated incident. Others will focus more on what they suspect to be a cover up rather than the underlying issue itself: this sort of thing is likely to happen again. Every franchise in the MLB has a Wilson Ramos—a foreign-born, promising athlete on the verge of stardom. That’s at least 30 targets, and that’s in just one of our major sports.
In a world where we like to have more and more access to those we admire and look up to (just look at the meteoric rise of twitter), we have to remember that certain barriers remain crucial. Fame attracts all; the good with the bad, the sane with the crazy, the good-natured with the bad-intentioned. And it’s only a matter of time before one of these stories of kidnapping or larceny ends with a not-so-happy ending.
NOTE: This article was originally published on SportsHead. To read this article and others click here.
Follow Bryan Lienesch on Twitter @bclienesch!