When the season ends in September, Al Pedrique will spend his offseason in Phoenix, Ariz. and isn’t visiting his home country of Venezuela to coach winter baseball as he’s done the last four or five years.
It was a tough decision for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders manager — one that was forced upon him. If he could, he’d return home.
But he can’t.
Venezuela continues to fall apart under the leadership of President Nicolás Maduro, who, amid crashing oil prices and an economic crisis, plans to rewrite the country’s constitution and consolidate his power over the nation. With tensions rising — The New York Times reported Tuesday that fugitive Venezuelan soldiers have declared rebellion against “the murderous tyranny” of president Maduro — it is just too dangerous for Pedrique to return home.
“I saw it with my own eyes when I managed last winter,” said Pedrique, who hails from Valencia, Venezuela. “I saw how a family went through the garbage looking for food. It’s a sad situation. I feel bad because I’m basically here and I have everything.
“It hasn’t been easy for the last three, four months, but we keep praying that sooner or later we get international help and hopefully things will start changing soon.”
Even though Pedrique is thousands of miles away from Venezuela, he’s very aware of what’s going on back home. The RailRiders manager still has family members who live there and is on the phone every day to get the latest update, he said. His wife, Marla, also has sisters there, and her two sons from her first marriage live in the capital.
When he’s not at PNC Field or any other International League stadium, Pedrique often finds himself watching the news. Work, he said, is where he finds a respite.
“When I come to the field, this is a place I can relax and forget about that for four, five hours,” Pedrique said. “It’s a tough situation Venezuela is going through right now. It’s real bad that a lot of people are suffering because we have no food, no medications. Hospitals, schools are in a real bad situation — bad shape.
“And it’s not recent for the country to be like that. We have all the resources that we (need) in order to be in a great situation, but just the fact the (president) and his people are going after the Venezuelan people — just killing them — it’s unsettling. We’re hoping that we get international help, because it’s gotten to the point that the situation is critical.”
Pedrique isn’t the only RailRider to be affected by the situation. New York Yankees top prospect Gleyber Torres, who was called up from Double-A Trenton earlier this season, is also from Venezuela and still has family there. The difference? Torres is only 20 years old. His wife is also 20 and has family back in the South American country, too.
There were times when Torres would come to his manager with troubles. Fortunately for him, Pedrique was able to relate.
“I told him, I said, ‘Anything you need that I can help you with so you can concentrate on your job, just let me know,’” Pedrique said. “He told me one time that it was difficult for him to go out and play the game knowing the fact that his parents are struggling with food, medication.
“We just have to do the best we can because we still have a job to do. And regardless of the role — him as a player, me as a coach — we have to do the best we can.”
Living in America full time as a U.S. citizen, Pedrique does his best to help his family and friends back home whenever he can. However, it hasn’t been easy lately.
He used to send his family and friends supplies to help them get by. But, he said, they haven’t been able to do that the last few weeks because the government is stealing whatever is coming in.
Ideally, he’d love to just get his family out of the suffering country before it gets worse, but it’s easier said than done.
“It’s a lot of paperwork — visa, all that stuff — and because of what’s going on, the relationship between the United States and Venezuela, to get a visa is not that easy,” Pedrique said. “Even if you got a visa and you’re trying to come over, they’re still going to think that you want to stay. A lot of my family, they don’t like the idea of coming over if you don’t have the right paperwork — the right visa — to stay here.
“We’re looking at different options. We’ll see if they can go to Chile, Panama, Colombia. A lot of Venezuelan people are moving to those countries and luckily they open the doors to the Venezuelan to establish — or start — life in those countries.”
Even though he’s a high-ranking member of the Yankees organization, Pedrique hasn’t used his influence to help his family’s situation. He said that if things get worse for his family he could likely reach out to the United States government for help. Luckily, it hasn’t gotten to that point.
But that doesn’t mean he’s going to stop trying any time soon.
“I’m sure there’s a way, but it’s not that easy. I’m sure it takes time,” Pedrique said. “There’s a political visa that you can apply (for), but you have to prove to the USA government that you have been attacked or chased by the Venezuelan (president). You can also do it that way, but luckily my family hasn’t gone through that situation, so we haven’t gone that route.
“We’re going to have to keep looking at options and see how soon we can get them out of there. It’s not that easy, but we’ll definitely do the best we can to help them out.”
Pedrique said he’d like to go back to Venezuela one day. But things need to change first.
Most importantly, the RailRiders manager would like to see changes made to the government. If it can change from the United Socialist Party under Maduro to a democracy, he believes things will get back on the right track.
Maybe then, it will be safe enough to return.
“I know they’re going through a real hard time right now and the best we can do is just by keeping in touch with them, praying for them,” Pedrique said. “The main thing that we’re trying to stop right now is the new constitution, and that’s what the governor is really doing whatever it’s going to take to put that in place.
“If that happens and then as a country democracy will be in Venezuela. Right now, it’s a dictatorship that’s going on in Venezuela, so that’s why we keep begging basically for international help.”