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UNDER SIEGE
THOMAS LAKE
February 06, 2012
IN CRIME-RIDDEN VENEZUELA, EVERY CELEBRITY IS A POTENTIAL TARGET AND BASEBALL STARS HAVE BECOME AN INVITING MARK. NATIONALS CATCHER WILSON RAMOS IS ONE OF THE LUCKY ONES—HE SURVIVED HIS KIDNAPPING. BUT HE KNOWS THAT ESCAPING POVERTY AND FULFILLING MAJOR LEAGUE DREAMS CAN LAND YOU IN A DIFFERENT KIND OF PRISON
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February 06, 2012

Under Siege

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The kidnappers made Ramos write and sign a proof-of-life letter to his family, but they held it for the time being. From what he could hear of their talk, they planned to wait four or five days before starting ransom negotiations. This part of their plan is still mysterious because the person who could have paid them—Ramos—was not in much of a position to deliver the cash.

Ramos's relatives say they never heard from the kidnappers, and the authorities told them nothing about the search. Investigators told his mother, Maria Campos, that the smallest detail released to the public could ruin the whole investigation.

So she waited and prayed, for a night and a day and a night and a day and another night, as Wilson's tropical birds sang occasional songs from the kitchen. Ever since Wilson's childhood his mother had called to him as he stood at home plate, "Patience, son. Take the first pitch." Now they both had to be patient, trusting in a God and a police force whose actions they could not see, for a length of time that could not be predicted. Venezuelan kidnappers are known for their excruciating patience. They can wait years for the ransom. An American expatriate tells the story of a friend who was kept in his underwear in a dark basement for so long that his own mother didn't recognize him when he finally escaped.

It was 75º in Valencia that Friday night, humid as usual, with clouds obscuring a full moon. It was 41º in Washington, D.C., where fans lit candles outside Nationals Park. Their signs said BRING HOME WILSON, and WE WANT RAMOS SAFE AT HOME. Under that same full moon, in Maracay, Venezuela, about 30 miles from Valencia, the Tigres played on without their catcher. Attendance was heavier than usual, more than 9,000, and stadium officials played soft music between innings to fit the mood. In the little house in the concrete slum Wilson's mother stood in a circle with perhaps 20 other people. They were singing.

Everything is possible, everything is possible

When I lift my hands

The phone rang, and Wilson's younger sister Milanyela answered. It was Wilson's friend Miguel Cabrera, the Detroit Tigers superstar, calling to check on them. After a brief conversation Milanyela hung up. The phone rang again. One of Chávez's ministers.

"I have good news," he said.

Milanyela fainted.

Hard evidence remains elusive in this case. Police and court documents are not widely available in Venezuela, and the remoteness of the supposed rescue location—so deep in the mountains west of Valencia that gunfire could have gone unheard by independent witnesses—makes it hard to prove or disprove anything. Nevertheless, interviews in Venezuela with about a dozen people close to the case allow for a close examination of the government's story. It matches the story from Ramos and his family.

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