GLENDALE — As a boy, Yolmer Sanchez played baseball in the streets of his hometown and dreamed of one day making it to the major leagues.
The Chicago White Sox second baseman realized that dream, and now he looks back at the people of his home country and imagines a brighter future for them, too.
But unrest in Venezuela has him nervous. Only his pregnant wife and son are here with him.
“Yeah, my whole family is over there,” Sanchez, 26, said. “My whole family.”
Sanchez, who is in Arizona wrapping up spring training, grew up in Maracay, Venezuela, a city situated near the Carribean coast of South America, just over 75 miles west of the Venezuelan capital of Caracas.
In the clubhouse at their Camelback Ranch spring training headquarters, all is ostensibly well on the surface.
In Venezuela, there is unrest, and that is something that weighs on Sanchez beneath the surface.
“I just want to see my country safe,” Sanchez said. “And everybody can work and have things. So, I just hope that someday we won’t have a lot of problems like right now.”
Venezuela is a nation under duress. Economic and political turmoil over the past several years have created high tension and left many citizens of the coastal South American country in poor living conditions.
A scarcity of resources – including basics such as food and medicine – an inflated economy and widespread power outages have led to a mass exodus throughout Venezuela amid the struggles.
The dearth of basic necessities has made returning to Venezuela more dangerous for Sanchez, so he stays in the States.
“I’ve got a son; he’s 4-years old, and my wife is pregnant,” he said. “So sometimes we don’t find the medicine that my wife has to take, so we prefer to stay here.”
Venezuela began experiencing instability around the election of President Nicolás Maduro in April 2013. Maduro controversially won re-election in May 2018, and his opposition has declared his election illegitimate, calling Maduro a “usurper” of the presidency.
Maduro’s re-election has amplified the conflict.
Now, Venezuela is caught in a struggle between Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaidó, president of the National Assembly, who claimed his stake to the Venezuelan presidency in January, invoking the constitution and citing election corruption.
U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted his support of Guaidó. Other nations, as well as Venezuelans, also are backing of Guaidó. However, Maduro remains in power as the country continues to destabilize.
It is a nightmare for Sanchez and other Venezuelans. He said his wife and son are “doing good because I can help them. But they still see everything happening over there.”
The United States has cut diplomatic ties with Venezuela, withdrawing its remaining diplomats and personnel from the U.S. Embassy in Caracas. Large parts of the country, including Caracas, experienced a prolonged blackout recently, adding to the chaos.
As strife continues to plague Venezuela, Sanchez can only watch from afar as the situation in the country where he learned to play a sport that he loves spirals out of control.
“I’m really thankful with this country because they gave me the opportunity to come over here and play baseball,” he said. “That’s what I love, and right now I have my residence here.
“My son was born here. Right now, my wife is pregnant so my second son is going to be born here. So, I have a lot of things to be thankful for (in) this country. But also, I was born in Venezuela, so these two countries mean a lot to me.”
While continuing to succeed professionally outside of Venezuela, Sanchez maintains his roots there and helps out his hometown when he can.
“Beautiful city, beautiful,” a wistful Sanchez said of Maracay, a city of almost a million people on the shore of Lago de Valencia near the northern coast.
“I don’t know what I can say. I love my city. I try to help the people over there, with my wife, because we have the opportunity.”
Despite the turmoil in his homeland, Sanchez remains focused on his craft this spring.
He returned to his natural position of second base after the White Sox moved second-year infielder Yoan Moncada to third base, and he is producing numbers in the Cactus League on-par with his efficient hitting last season.
As unrest and uncertainty continue to grip Venezuela, Sanchez hopes that the world will once again have the chance to see his country at its best, stable and shining with the potential he knows it has.
“Coming from there, that’s a beautiful country,” Sanchez said. “I always say I hope someday my country fix all those problems, that people have the opportunity to go down there and see how beautiful is Venezuela. Because we’ve got everything over there.”
One dream has come true for Sanchez. Maybe that one will, too.
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