FORT MYERS, Fla. — For Felix Doubront, Edward Mujica, and other Red Sox players from Venezuela, the familiar routines of spring training have been altered by concern for the safety of their family and friends back home.
Civil unrest in Venezuela has led to at least 13 deaths and dozens of injuries. As protesters take to the streets of major cities, President Nicolás Maduro has sent the military into some parts of the nation where tensions are highest.
Severe food shortages and violent crime are rampant. For the players, it’s a feeling of helplessness to watch from afar.
“People are scared. Everybody is scared,” Doubront said.
On Monday morning, the Sox players sent a message home. Doubront, Mujica, Jonathan Herrera, Jose Mijares, Brayan Villarreal, and bullpen catcher Mani Martinez posed for photographs while holding a Venezuelan flag and small signs asking for peace and unity.
Doubront immediately posted the photo to his Twitter account.
“Supporting our people from here,” he wrote in Spanish.
Similar symbolic gestures have taken place at other major league camps.
“It’s not much. But we’re trying to help,” said Herrera, a 29-year-old infielder. “Maybe, because we’re baseball players, it could help a little.”
Doubront chose his words carefully, making sure not to comment on the policies of the government.
“We support all the people there and let them know that major league players are with them,” he said. “We’re not with the government or that thing [the protesters] are doing now. We just want peace and to get things back to normal. There are a lot of bad things going on.”
Venezuela had 63 players on Opening Day rosters last season. Only the United States and the Dominican Republic had more. The violence in Venezuela touches every team to some degree, and Red Sox manager John Farrell is sensitive to the issue.
“Very,” he said. “We do have a good number of players that do come from Venezuela. The pitchers that we’ve already met with one-on-one, we’re trying to get a feel for if their families are affected by it.
“We’re sympathetic, and if there’s ever any needs we can help with, we’ll certainly take a look at those. It’s unfortunate their families have to contend with something that’s completely out of their control.”
Doubront spent only three weeks at his home in Venezuela this winter. When he ventured out, he was sure it was in the company of friends who would protect him if the need arose.
The threat of kidnapping forces players to take extra precautions. Others have moved permanently to the United States. In 2011, Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos was held for two days before police rescued him.
“You have to be aware where you are going to be and the people around you,” Doubront said. “The people you don’t know are the people who could do something. I go out with my friends and a couple of guys who can protect me.”
Mujica, who now lives in Miami, understands why the protesters have taken to the streets.
“I’m supporting Venezuela’s students and people. We’re far, but we’re giving them support,” he said. “We do that because we’re from Venezuela. We care about the people in the streets right now.”
Mujica moved to Florida in part for safety reasons.
“It’s dangerous in Venezuela,” he said. “It’s crazy to go out there and put yourself in a bad situation.”
Mujica checks with his family several times a day to make sure they’re safe. The same is true of the other Red Sox players.
“Messages, calls. You worry about them,” said Herrera, pointing to his phone. “I’m here to play baseball but you think about your friends.”
Herrera said some Venezuelans who normally would play in the country’s popular winter league stayed away because of the protests and street violence. The situation boiled over earlier this month.
“I was there and I was fine,” he said. “But it’s a hard thing to leave and come here to play baseball and worry about people. We’re lucky because of baseball. But it’s on your mind.”
Mijares, a lefthander in camp on a minor league contract, would not comment when approached by a reporter.
“I can’t say anything about that,” he said. “Too dangerous.”
Doubront’s wife and two young sons are with him for the season. He checks in with other relatives several times a day.
“My family is scared,” Doubront said. “Nothing happened today. But the next day, you don’t know.”