NEW: Police have two sketches of the suspects
Wilson Ramos was kidnapped from his family home in Venezuela
He was playing in a winter league in Venezuela
Ramos finished his rookie season with the Washington Nationals
Venezuelan federal authorities on Thursday dispatched their “best investigators” to track the kidnappers of Major League Baseball catcher Wilson Ramos, the country’s justice minister said.
Ramos, a rising star for the Washington Nationals, was snatched from his family home in central Venezuela by gunmen Wednesday night, a team spokeswoman said.
The 24-year-old emerged as the Nationals’ top catcher this past season. He had a .267 batting average with 15 home runs and 52 runs batted in.
This past year was his rookie season, and he was back in his home country playing for the Aragua Tigers in Venezuela’s winter league.
The Nationals could not confirm the kidnapping, but they published a statement citing Tiger’s spokeswoman Kathe Vilera.
Ramos was kidnapped by four armed men from his home in Santa Ines, in Carabobo state, Vilera said on Twitter.
“It’s sad, worrisome and true that Wilson Ramos was kidnapped,” she wrote.
The vehicle believed to have been used in the kidnapping was found in the town of Bejuma, about 60 miles from where Ramos was kidnapped, the country’s justice and interior minister, Tareck El Aissami.
“The best investigators we have” are on the case, he said.
The federal agency in charge of the case said they had assembled the police sketches of two of the alleged kidnappers.
“Prudence and an even head are important in this difficult moment that the Ramos family is going through,” Tigers President and General Manager Rafael Rodriguez said in a statement. “With God’s help we will end up well in this complicated situation.”
Unlike most Latin American countries, it is not soccer that rules in Venezuela, but baseball. A number of Venezuelan players make it to the major leagues in the United States.
But along with the success and paydays in the United States, Venezuelan natives and their families have faced threats at home.
The targeting of baseball players by criminal groups is not unheard of in Venezuela, but Ramos’ case could be the first time that a player himself was kidnapped.
In 2009, the 11-year-old son of Texas Rangers catcher Yorvit Torrealba, as well as his brother-in-law, were kidnapped for ransom. The pair were released the next day, reportedly with no ransom paid.
Former major league pitcher Victor Zambrano’s mother was also kidnapped that year, and rescued in a police operation.
The brother of Arizona Diamondbacks catcher Henry Blanco was kidnapped and killed in 2008.
The trend of Venezuelan ballplayers being at risk goes back at least to 2005, when the mother of former big-league pitcher Ugueth Urbina, was kidnapped and held captive for months.
The FBI on Thursday informed the government of Venezuela that it is prepared to assist in Ramos’ case if asked to, an FBI spokesman said. So far the government of President Hugo Chavez has not requested U.S. assistance.
Currently the FBI is not involved because Ramos is not a U.S. citizen and the crime did not occur in the United States, so Washington authorities have no jurisdiction to investigate the case unless asked.
The U.S. State Department has warned of the increasing cases of kidnappings in Venezuela. In 2009, the number of reported kidnappings in the country doubled from the previous year, and police admit that many cases don’t get reported.
CNN’s Terry Frieden and Mark Bixler contributed to this report.