AKRON The scenes on television have been shocking and heartbreaking. The world has watched as the ongoing political and economic crisis in Venezuela has led to food shortages, the absence of basic daily necessities, riots and power outages across the South American nation.
For five members of the Akron RubberDucks, those images on the television aren’t just footage of a humanitarian crisis half a world away; they’re a vivid reminder of what life is like back home and what their friends and family members are dealing with on a daily basis.
First-year RubberDucks manager Rouglas Odor and four of his players hail from Venezuela and. though they are originally from different parts of the country, they can all connect to each other and to what’s happening back home in their native country.
“I’ve been asked by many people that know me about family members and the situation … challenges are different than 20, 25 years ago. You always were going to face situations where you didn’t have something here or there, but it’s different … we didn’t lose power for four or five days in a row or seven or eight hours in a day ... those things we didn’t see,” Odor said, adding that it was especially tough when cable news broadcast footage of a chaotic scene at the border between Venezuela and Colombia when international efforts to send aid into Venezuela were thwarted and a melee broke out on a bridge where police and protesters clashed. “It was tough to see, it was tough to see that. Some people were trying to send the aid and some people didn’t agree … it’s a political situation that’s out of our hands, it’s out of a lot of people’s hands and we don’t know how to handle it. As a person from Venezuela, you see that … we just want to be able to help the people in Venezuela, that’s all we want. We want peace for Venezuela. We don’t want to fight and we don’t want to see people getting hurt.”
Odor hails from Maracaibo, in the state of Zulia, in the extreme northwest corner of Venezuela, but he first left the country at the age of 18 to come to the Unites States and attend the University of New Orleans. Baseball brought him to America, but it is also what has taken him back to Venezuela virtually every year since then.
Odor has coached in the country’s winter baseball league for most of his managerial career, often serving as a bench coach. He would often split his years with six months in the U.S. and six months in Venezuela and said that going home for the winter ball season was “easier, not just to go there to play baseball, but I also was seeing my family.”
Odor recalls the Venezuela he knew growing up and contrasts it with the reality now unfolding on a world stage.
“Not as much as during these past couple of months,” he says the struggles with food, power and other necessities. “You always had issues here and there, but not as much as these past couple of months.”
It’s why Odor’s parents recently came to Akron to live with him, escaping the turbulent situation in Venezuela when they arrived before the RubberDucks’ third game of the season. Most of their family remains in Venezuela, something with which pitcher Argenis Angulo can relate. He, teammates Andruw Monasterio, Wilson Garcia and Jorma Rodriguez all hail from Venezuela, but their family situations are a bit different than Odor’s, as the manger is three decades their senior.
“It’s a big relief for him … it’s harder for us to bring them (family members) here because they still have a lot of stuff to do there, like my grandma is there and we wanted her to fly here and she said, ‘I’m born and raised here, I’m going to die here,’ so you want to take care of her and it’s hard,” Angulo said. “I went there for three months to play winter ball and it was hard to see people eating from the trash can, like after games I was ordering food for me and one time, there were like six guys asking for food because they didn’t have anything to eat. It’s not their fault, so I feel bad … things are going really, really bad.”
Angulo is happy to have multiple Venezuelan teammates and a manager - the first time in his professional career he’s had that experience - and the group regularly talks about what’s happening back home, how their families are doing and what Venezuelans are dealing with. He recalls going to the store as a child and being able to find most anything he and his family wanted, much like the majority of Americans are used to doing. Odor has shared memories even further back, telling Angulo things were even better when the veteran manager was growing up.
Now, Venezuela is a place where the crisis between the country’s leader, President Nicolas Maduro, and opposition groups has continued from the time of his predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez. Inflation, crime and rising death rates have marked the past decade and while the United States has recognized Juan Guaidó, the self-declared interim president, as the country’s leader, the conflict continues to impact the daily lives of the entire country.
“It’s tough when you imagine not having power for two or three days and your having a rough time with basic (things) and water. The state I’m from is one of the toughest places because somehow the city has a hard time with electricity and water and going out and getting food. Hopefully things get better soon,” Odor said, describing how his family has dealt with the crisis and its effects. “They (his parents) were able to get together with family members and stay in one house because of the generator and that made it a lot easier. They were able to save food in the refrigerator and that’s how they did it. Now, things are getting a little better, but still the electricity goes on and off, but there were times they didn’t have it for four straight days and the fifth day, we were lucky the power came back on because we were going to lose all the food they had.”
The power outages and cell phone service disruptions have been especially hard on Angulo, whose parents remain in Venezuela, along with his grandmother, cousins and other family members.
“It depends … right now I’ve been talking to them every other day. Before, when the (power outages) happened, I went six days without talking to my mom because there was no power … they would charge the phone in the car, but (the government) shut down the (cell phone) service too, so there was no way to talk to them,” Angulo said. “It was tough thinking after the game, ‘Oh my God, I don’t know if they’re doing good,’ and I would call, but nothing would go through … it was hard.”
He describes sending financial support to his family, but knowing that support has minimal impact because often, there simply isn’t a supply of food and other products they need to buy. If he tries to send non-perishable food items, he said, those items will be confiscated by the government before they reach his family. So all he, Odor and his Venezuelan teammates can do is stay in touch, send support as they can and hope for a resolution to the crisis.
Both Odor and Angulo don’t wade into the politics of what’s happening and in many ways, their situation is one relatable to anyone who has to watch people they love struggle from afar without being able to do much about it. Despite the instability in the country, Odor says he’d love to go back for winter ball this year and continue doing what he’s done for many years, riding buses on trips ranging from a few hours to 10 hours or more around the country where he grew up, traveling to baseball games just as he does in the U.S.
Until then, players and coaches such as Angulo and Odor are doing their best to focus on their jobs and keep tabs on the situation from a distance. Those who ask about it understand once he shares with them, Odor insists, but even then, they can’t fully grasp the severity of the situation unless they hail from a country that has gone through a similar situation. Baseball remains a thread that connects the two worlds for the dozens of Venezuelans who play or coach in American professional baseball and most days, it’s a place to find a short respite from the stress the crisis can bring.
Reach Andy at 330-580-8936 or firstname.lastname@example.org
On Twitter: @aharrisBURB