Villarreal glad to be on field following ordeal
Tigers reliever gets a save on Monday just days after family's attempted kidnapping
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Brayan Villarreal took the mound for the Tigers in the ninth inning on Monday, a save situation, and struck out the side. That was the easy part of his day. That's the part he has been looking forward to for the last couple days.
The aftermath, getting in front of reporters and talking about his parents and teenage brother surviving a kidnapping attempt in Venezuela, was the hard part. It happened thousands of miles away while he was in camp, but the way it felt, it might as well have been him.
"It was hard," Villarreal said following the Tigers' 8-5 win on Monday. "I was mad, and I couldn't do anything because I'm here. But that happened already, and they're all good, and I'm good, and they're going to come here, and they're going to be safe. Thank God, everything's fine."
For many baseball players from Venezuela, it's a reality of life. If you're good, you're famous, and possibly wealthy. If you're famous and wealthy, there's a chance you're a target.
Villarreal doesn't think he was targeted. He believes some guys saw a house with a lot of valuables and took a chance to rob it, not knowing who lived there. Had they known it was a ballplayer, he figures they would have gone in looking to take hostages, not stuff, and he would have been hearing about a ransom. His family became hostages once they walked in on the robbery.
"If they knew about me, they were going to take my brother or somebody," he said. "They just came to steal, like, the TV, things like that. They were going to take my car. But they didn't know anything about me, I'm pretty sure."
That doesn't make him feel any safer.
"People in Venezuela are always thinking that," Villarreal said. "It's a very dangerous place. That's my country, and that's sad to say that, but it's very dangerous to live in Venezuela."
It's a difficult feeling. When he's on the mound, he's in control, maybe even a little more than other relievers because his pitches are so difficult to hit. As last season shows, when he pitches like he's capable, hitters don't have much of a chance against him.
When robbers broke into his family's house on Friday, he was helpless on another continent. By the time he learned about it, it was actually all over.
When he got the text message from his mom, it took a moment to process. He was eating dinner in Lakeland, having just pitched against the Mets in Port St. Lucie a few hours earlier.
The reassurances from his mom that everybody was safe, that they were settled in a different house owned by another family member, allowed him enough comfort to finish dinner. Once he got back to his place, it started to set in.
"I couldn't sleep that night, thinking about it," he said.
Villarreal thought about his family tied up, held at gunpoint. He thought about how much worse it could have been had a neighbor not noticed something suspicious and called police, giving officers the chance to respond while they were in the act.
"The police told my family that they shot one of them, but they escaped, all of them," Villarreal said.
They escaped with some gold watches, Villarreal said, but not much more.
This was not a crowded neighborhood, he said. The homes aren't that close together. He knows the area -- at least Villarreal thought he did -- because he comes home there for a few weeks each offseason before he begins winter ball. It's not the house he grew up in, but the house his parents bought after he moved out and embarked on his baseball career.
Villarreal wouldn't have a problem going back there again next offseason, but now he has to think about his family and their safety. If people didn't know who he was before, they know now.
All he's thinking about now is getting his parents and brother here to Florida as soon as they can get there. Even if they're staying with family members, Villarreal wants them here with him.
He talked with them about coming to the United States before, at least during the season like his middle brother, but they didn't want to leave Venezuela behind. That conversation will probably take place again.
"They want to come here because they are afraid," Villarreal said. "They're going to come here soon. I'm not sure if they're going to stay here or not."