SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Giants outfielder Gregor Blanco was just 16 when a Venezuelan gang kidnapped him, holding him at gunpoint for four hours while demanding money from the Blanco family.
For 21-year-old pitching prospect Edwin Escobar, the nightmare scenario played out just a month ago. Escobar's parents were robbed in their own home and his father needed 15 stitches after being clubbed on the head.
Experiences like those have led the 12 Venezuelan players in Giants camp to join stars from around Major League Baseball in showing their support for protesters in Venezuela. On Sunday, the group held signs of support in a photo that was posted on Twitter and Instagram; on Monday, the team's Venezuelans were planning a video shoot, hoping to produce a taped message to send back home.
"What is happening there with the government is not okay, and we don't have to be used to it," Blanco said. "What's happening there, it shouldn't happen. The security is terrible; a robbery there is nothing, everyone has been robbed. There's not enough food or medicine and the hospitals have gotten really bad. We have to progress and get better as a country.
"The message we're sending is that the Venezuelan people have to be united. We're trying to let the citizens there know that we're with them. Hopefully this gives the people more power."
Venezuelan players around baseball have the same goal. The Detroit Tigers, led by two-time reigning American League MVP Miguel Cabrera, posed for a photo on Friday morning, followed shortly by Venezuelan contingents from teams such as the Seattle Mariners, Houston Astros and Minnesota Twins. The trend has swept big league clubhouses, and a dozen A's joined in Monday morning, holding up signs and posing with a Venezuelan flag. The Giants players held up pieces of paper with varying messages, from "Far but not absent" to "Pray for Venezuela."
"When we come in every morning, that's the only thing we're talking about," catcher Hector Sanchez said. "We update each other on the latest news, watch the latest videos and look at Twitter. It's crazy, and incredibly sad."
Sanchez calls his parents after every workout at Scottsdale Stadium. Blanco races to check in with his eight-year-old son, who lives in Caracas, and has encouraged him not to attend school and stay out of the streets. Escobar is one of the top left-handed prospects in baseball and may make his MLB debut sometime this season, but he's having a difficult time fully enjoying big league camp. When he returns to the team hotel every afternoon, Escobar checks in with his wife and three-year-old son, who remain in Venezuela.
"I'm here trying my best and trying to make the club, but of course you're always worried," he said. "It's a really bad situation. Security there gets worse every day."
Reports out of Venezuela have at least 12 dead during weeks of antigovernment protests. Despite the potential danger for their families, Venezuelan players have shown little reticence while showing their support. Escobar has been active in retweeting videos and Pablo Sandoval has sent messages of support to his nearly 100,000 Twitter followers.
"I see it this way: When we play here, (the people in Venezuela) give us a lot of support," Cabrera told MLB.com. "Right now, a lot of players give a lot of support to the people of Venezuela."
Venezuelans in the Giants clubhouse said Monday that they're hoping to build a coalition of support throughout MLB. Cabrera, the country's biggest star, is said to be seeking a discussion with embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
"We're with the people," Escobar said. "We're here, but we're with them."