Sports

Venezuelan baseball players try to stop unrest in the country with tweets

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Credit: REUTERS/Mark Blinch

Team Venezuela's Miguel Cabrera makes a diving catch in the World Baseball Classic in 2009. He's now using his star power to call for peace in the country.

Spring training is in full swing as Major League Baseball gears up for Opening Day next month.

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(This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.)

But a sizable contingent of major league players has something else on their minds: The deadly unrest in Venezuela.

More than a dozen people have died in a wave of anti-government protests and crackdowns by government forces.

There are lots of Venezuelan players in US baseball.

And they're worried about the violence back home.

Many of the players have been tweeting pictures of themselves holding the Venezuelan flag and signs urging peace in the country.

Alfredo Villasmil, a sports writer for Ultimas Noticias in Caracas, is following this story.

He says it all started with this tweet by the Detroit Tigers' Omar Vizquel:

He's pictured with Miguel Cabrera. If you're not into baseball, just know Cabrera is a hero in Venezuela.

Villasmil says people stop what they do whenever he gets up to bat. Cabrera, like other professional baseball players, unites people of all political persuasion.

So when he calls for peace, people listen. The call for peace created a domino effect of sorts among the players.

"Every single day two or three teams start to send a message of peace," says Villasmil.

And what was one became many:

 

The combined effort is sending a message. And it's upsetting the government.

Villasmil says officials in Venezuela initially thought the US State Department was behind the tweets, manipulating the players. This response is, in part, due to how the current ruling party portrays itself.

"They sell themselves as the government of the people," he says.

When popular athletes speak up about unrest, you can understand the tricky position it puts the government in.

That's why you see talk of manipulation. But players are telling Villasmil they sincerely want peace. They have family in the area.

But can these tweets really do anything? Villasmil says no. It will take dialogue between the two sides.

He's praying for a solution but doesn't think one will come anytime soon.

The government isn't talking about the violence. They are broadcasting Carnival and happiness and laughing.

"In public addresses they don't talk about the deaths," he says.

The only hope he says, is that negotiations between President Maduro and the opposition find a solution to the unrest.

"This can explode and be worse than it already is," Villasmil says.

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