sports journalist

RYAN S. CLARK

By Ryan S. Clark

Staff writer

 

PARKLAND  --  High school baseball player Yorvis Torrealba doesn't take freedom for granted.

 

Five years ago, Yorvis, the son of a Major League Baseball player, was kidnapped and held for ransom in his homeland of Venezuela.

 

Yorvis, now 16, for the first time is speaking publicly about the harrowing episode that stretched over three days, terrifying him as he sat blindfolded, at gunpoint, in the middle of the countryside, along with two of his uncles.

 

His abduction wasn't an isolated incident: Families of high-profile athletes have been targets in Venezuela for years.

 

"It was horrible," Yorvis said. "I cried the whole time. I stopped crying, but then I started crying again for two or three days."

 

On June 2, 2009, Yorvis' two uncles, who always took him to school, picked him up. Minutes later, they were stopped while walking to school. A car pulled alongside them and four men with guns ordered them inside the vehicle.

 

The captors later called Yorvis' mother, Milangela Torrealba, saying her son and his uncles were kidnapped.

 

"She called me crying, saying 'They've got my son! They've got my son!' " recalled Yorvit Torrealba, who has played 12 seasons in Major League Baseball.

 

Yorvis said he and his uncles were taken to a place in the Venezuelan countryside. They sat on a couch in the middle of an open field surrounded only by animals and mountains. Yorvis said he cried even when his kidnappers tried to feed him. They told him he needed to eat so he wouldn't go hungry, he remembered.

 

On the third day, local authorities told the kidnappers they would get their requested ransom of $500,000 to $1 million.

 

The kidnappers returned to Caracas and dropped off Yorvis and his uncles without their ransom in hand. Yorvis said the kidnappers believed the money was on its way, leading to their inexplicable release.

 

Yorvis remembers one of the kidnappers taking off his blindfold.

 

"He told me, 'because I know I'm going to see you in the future again because I am going to ask you to get me an autographed Rockies hat from your dad,' " Yorvis said. "That's what he said to me. I was like, 'OK.' He was serious. I just laughed and said, 'OK, sure.' "

 

Yorvis said he hasn't seen that man or any of his kidnappers since.

 

Local authorities told Yorvit Torrealba the kidnappers never received the money and suggested he and his family leave Venezuela in case the kidnappers made another attempt.

 

After Yorvis' abduction, the family joined Torrealba in Denver, where he was playing for the Colorado Rockies, for about a month until they moved to South Florida. Choosing South Florida was easy because of its Hispanic culture and it being only a two-hour flight from Venezuela, Torrealba said.

 

"After that happened, the next few months we didn't trust anyone," Torrealba said. "You could say, 'Good morning,' but I'd look at you like, 'Who is this guy? Where does he live?' That was the hard part. My wife remembers taking my son to school a few times and said she was going to stay the whole time because she wanted to make sure she knew who he was talking to."

 

Yorvis, now a junior, has adjusted well to his surroundings as a member of the Douglas High baseball team.

 

Yorvis, who plays catcher and outfielder, has become one of his baseball team's most well-liked players.

 

His infectious smile and upbeat attitude have endeared him to his teammates and coach, Todd Fitz-Gerald.

 

Fitz-Gerald previously coached Yorvis at American Heritage in Plantation in 2009. The pair reunited in 2013 when Yorvis transferred to Douglas, where Fitz-gerald became coach in 2011.

 

Yorvis, who is 6 feet and 180 pounds, is hitting .263 and 15 RBI this season for the Eagles (14-6). Fitz-Gerald, who has coached eight other sons of major leaguers, said Torrealba will likely go the junior college route because of the language barrier before developing into a Division I player, if he chooses.

 

"They had just come here when we met them and he was this little 80-pound kid who said, 'I just love beisbol,' " Fitz-Gerald said, trying to imitate the younger Torrealba. "From the first day I met him, there was just a big smile on his face. I've never seen that kid not happy. Never. When you smile that much, you're going to live a long time."

 

Douglas teammates Dominic DiCaprio and Colton Welker said Torrealba is down-to-earth despite being the son of a major leaguer. He's never bragged about who his dad was.

 

He didn't even discuss the abduction with his teammates until they went to Key West for a two-game series earlier this season. They all thought it was a joke until they realized he was serious.

 

"I've known him since I was 13 and we've always been close," Welker said. "He's a kid who never shows off what he has and he has always worked hard."

 

Yorvis said he would like to follow his father and become a major league ballplayer. His dad supports the decision, but he also wouldn't be disappointed if his son became a doctor, either.

 

The older Torrealba is in South Florida since being released after spring training. He's waiting for an offer or trying to figure out if he wants to retire after a 12-year career.

 

Torrealba spends his days with his wife, son and their 21-month-old daughter. He has been working out in case a team needs a catcher. He also watches his son's games.

 

Torrealba also checks out Instagram daily to read about what's happening in Venezuela. Being away from Venezuela is still tough, he said. The civil unrest that has torn the nation apart is always on his mind. If there was a way to live in a safer, more structured Venezuela, they'd be on the first flight back, Torrealba said.

 

Kidnappings continue to be an issue in Venezuela. The Venezuelan Violence Observatory estimates 9,000 to 16,000 kidnappings occur every year. Caracas, where the Torrealbas lived, is at the epicenter with five abductions every day during the last quarter of 2011, according to the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security. Only 20 to 30 percent of all kidnappings are reported, according to the state department.

 

Venezuelan baseball players and their families are often high-end targets.

 

The first well-known kidnapping came in 2005 when the mother of Ugueth Urbina, a former closer with the Boston Red Sox, was held for ransom with kidnappers demanding $6 million for her return. She was rescued after five months.

 

Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos, in 2011, was kidnapped and was rescued two days later in a military-style extraction. Ramos was abducted at gunpoint outside of his family's home.

 

For now, the Torrealbas are happy with flying back from time to time to see family.

 

"I don't really know how we've managed," Torrealba said. "Next thing you know, we've been here for five years and getting used to knowing this is where we want to be. Here you can sit in the park without worrying if people are going to try to take your money. That is something in Venezuela you cannot do and I feel that is the sad part."

 

However, being in South Florida after enduring the three-day abduction, his son has an appeciation of life outside of his homeland.

 

"I just go outside and I am not worried about anything," Yorvis said. "It is not like that in Venezuela. You have people walking around with guns. Not in every single place, but some places are like that. The safety here is just priceless."

Douglas High junior Yorvis Torrealba recounts his kidnapping ordeal

Baseball family feels safe

Sports  |  April 19, 2014  |  Page 1A, 8A

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