11/12/11 5:40 PM EST
After two days, Ramos rescued in Venezuela
Kidnapped catcher safely found by investigators on Friday night
By Jesse Sanchez and Bill Ladson / MLB.com
More than 50 hours after he was abducted from the front yard of his mother's home outside of Valencia, Venezuela, the Nationals' 24-year-old catcher was rescued by Venezuelan authorities after a 15-minute gunfight on Friday.
"I feel so happy and proud of all the supporters and fans with the Nationals, Major League Baseball and Venezuela who [were] praying for me," Ramos told MLB.com from Venezuela. "I don't have the words to describe this experience and what I have been through."
He was rescued during an air operation in the mountains in the state of Carabobo, roughly 40 miles northwest of where he was abducted.
"I was super scared, and even though [the kidnappers] did not hurt me physically, it was something that was very painful," Ramos said. "I didn't think I was ever going to see my family again and that hurt me so much. But now, I am with them again and it feels tremendous to be back."
On Wednesday, Ramos was kidnapped by four armed gunmen in the suburban neighborhood of Santa Ines. He had not been heard from until his rescue.
"It happened so fast," Ramos said. "We took off in one car and then we changed cars. Then we went to a house in the mountains. I didn't know what was going on. I didn't know what to think. I was very scared."
Ramos was especially grateful to Venezuela's CICPC (police), including chief Roger Mendez, chief Luis Sifontes, chief Luis Rodriguez, assistant chief Franklin Inojosa, chief inspector Gilberto Contreras, and inspectors Jose Dlima, David Pena and Jose De La Cruz.
"They saved my life and risked their own for me," Ramos said. "And I am grateful and I will never know how to thank them. I will thank them all of my life."
Ramos said that six people were involved in his kidnapping and detention -- an older couple which took care of him (food and water), two people who were in charge of driving him up the mountain where he was held and two others who were the actual kidnappers.
Ramos believed some of the people involved were from Colombia because of their accent, and Venezuelan justice minister Tareck El Aissami, who announced the news of the rescue on state television, confirmed that, saying the police have three people in custody, including a Colombian "linked to paramilitary groups and to kidnapping groups."
El Aissami said police are still gathering evidence at the site of the rescue "to see if we can find others who were responsible." No official reports of the kidnappers demanding money are available, though Ramos said the kidnappers told him they expected to get a ransom and release him in three or four days, but that they struggled with communication because of the lack of a cellular signal in the woods. Ramos said his captors used phone calling cards to communicate with others.
The Venezuelan government is going to provide Ramos and his family with bodyguards going forward.
"I join Wilson in thanking the many law enforcement officials in Venezuela and investigators with Major League Baseball who worked tirelessly to ensure a positive ending to what has been a frightening ordeal," Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said in a statement Friday. "The only detail that concerns us tonight is that Wilson is safe. The entire Washington Nationals family is thankful that Wilson Ramos is coming home."
According to The Associated Press, Ramos' mother was jubilant upon hearing the news and proclaimed on television, "Thanks to God!"
"Thanks to my country, to my neighbors and to my family, who were supporting us," she said.
She soon spoke with Ramos by phone and happily announced, "He's fine."
Scot Drucker, a teammate of Ramos' with Tigres de Aragua, tweeted Friday that Ramos was in Caracas, Venezuela, receiving medical attention. He later tweeted that the crowd at Tigres' Winter League game began to cheer nonstop upon hearing news of the rescue. Play on the field stopped as the fans stood and applauded.
"The happiness is something that I can't describe," said Kathe Vilera, the spokesperson for Tigres. "The fans went crazy when the stadium announcer said it."
It's been an excruciating couple of days for the Ramos family. The kidnapping happened in front of several witnesses, including his brothers and neighbors.
"He tried to stay calm, because they had a gun on his head and said, 'If you move, I kill you,'" said Marfa Mata, who has worked with Ramos as his public relations assistant since 2009. "The man put one arm on his neck and gun on his head and got in an SUV."
On Thursday, the SUV was found in a town near Santa Ines. Early Friday, deputy justice minister Edwin Rojas told the AP that investigators were gathering evidence and had descriptions of the kidnappers from witnesses. Venezuelan security expert Luis Cedeno told the AP that Ramos' abductors could be linked to one of the Venezuelan criminal groups that focus on high-profile kidnappings.
Vilera and Mata kept the public informed through updates on their Twitter accounts. Vilera, who operates the official Twitter account for the Tigres, saw Ramos at Estadio Jose Perez Colmenares, the home stadium of the Tigres, almost every day.
Mata, who is a reporter by trade, has been giving Ramos lessons in media training. The sessions are a challenge at times, she said, because the quiet-natured Ramos would rather play baseball or teach a child about sports than stand in front a camera and talk about it.
"After games, I've seen him pull over and park his car and take time to sign autographs for kids," Mata said. "He is always taking photos. The fans love him, and he loves the kids, too."
News of Ramos' abduction spread quickly.
On Thursday, Major League Baseball and the Nationals issued a joint statement on Wilson's situation, and later, players in the Venezuelan Professional League began to wear ribbons on their uniforms in honor of their friend. Major League players expressed themselves through Twitter.
"Wilson Ramos situation is very sad. ... No respect for human life. Greed, money-loving people are killing this world," tweeted Indians manager Manny Acta.
"Extremely upsetting news about Ramo," teammate Drew Storen tweeted. "Thoughts and prayers [are] with him."
Early Friday, an estimated 75 to 100 fans participated in the candlelight vigil for Ramos behind the center-field gate at Nationals Park. There were at least a dozen lighted candles and signs that read "Free No. 3" and "Bring Home Wilson."
"I thought maybe if we all got together, it would be a good way to show some support, lean on each other a little bit and try to do something, even if it's showing that we care," said Alicia Durfee, who organized the event. "It turned to a lot more than that. ... I know that everybody likes him as a player. I didn't realize how much everybody cared about him as a person, too."
Venezuela consistently ranks near the top of the list in murder rates, and the number of kidnappings have grown in recent years. Many crimes go unsolved.
The catcher's abduction is the first known for a Major League player, but there have been kidnapping incidents involving the families of big league players in the past. A son and brother-in-law of now-Rangers catcher Yorvit Torrealba were released one day after being abducted in 2009, and the mother of former pitcher Victor Zambrano was rescued after a three-day ordeal later that year. Four years earlier, the mother of two-time All-Star pitcher Ugueth Urbina was rescued five months after she was kidnapped.
Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond knows how important family is to Ramos. He recalls the time Ramos brought his mother and sister to the United States to watch him play in the big leagues for the first time.
"He was telling me all about it," Desmond said. "He was ecstatic for his mom to be here. He was so excited. He was going to take his mom to the mall. Anything that she wanted, he was going to buy for her."
The Ramos family has plenty to be proud of. In 2011, the catcher played his first full big league season and became the everyday starter behind the plate, hitting .267 with 15 home runs (a Nationals record for a backstop) and 52 RBIs.
It's unclear what Ramos has planned for the future, or if he intends to leave Venezuela.
"[Ramos] loves to sit on the porch with his brothers and play with the neighborhood kids," Mata said. "He's always available for pictures, and everyone in the community loves him because he's an idol. Everybody knew where he lived, and they knew he would come. This year, he played the whole season, and everyone was trying to get the date when he was coming to say hello and take a picture."
Jesse Sanchez is a national reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB. Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.