Opinion

Families like Torrealbas came to U.S. to flee terror, guns; what about now?

Colorado Rockies catcher Yorvit Torrealba (8) celebrates his twelfth-inning hit that scored a teammate to defeat the Atlanta Braves in 2013. The Venezuelan moved his family to Parkland, Florida, to escape Central American violence, only to see that community suffer a devastating school shooting this week.
Colorado Rockies catcher Yorvit Torrealba (8) celebrates his twelfth-inning hit that scored a teammate to defeat the Atlanta Braves in 2013. The Venezuelan moved his family to Parkland, Florida, to escape Central American violence, only to see that community suffer a devastating school shooting this week. AP file photo, 2013

“The safety here is just priceless.” — Yorvis Torrealba, 2014

Those words and the story behind it have run through my mind several times the last few days as we all watch what’s unfolding with the Douglas High School shooting in Florida.

Today I am a sports reporter for The News Tribune, but four years ago, I was a sports reporter at the South Florida Sun Sentinel. One time I was covering a Douglas High baseball game, and noticed that Douglas had a player named Yorvis Torrealba.

It reminded me of Yorvit Torrealba, who was a Major League catcher for more than 10 years. Yorvit was with the Colorado Rockies in 2009 when his son was abducted at gunpoint back home in Venezuela. There was no way this was the same son, right?

Yes, it was him.

One day I asked Yorvis if he was open to talking about his story. Both he and his dad agreed. Yorvis talked about what it was like to walk to school with his two uncles, only to be kidnapped in Caracas and taken into the mountains.

His kidnappers wanted what was eventually a $1 million ransom.

Kidnappings are an epidemic in Venezuela. Homicide is the No. 1 crime in Caracas, the capital city, but kidnappings are second, according to the U.S. State Department. At the time I wrote the story, the State Department estimated only 20 to 30 percent kidnappings are actually reported.

Yorvis was released after three days without ransom, but local police told the family to leave Venezuela in case the kidnappers made another attempt.

The family moved to South Florida; it made sense, since it’s only a two-hour flight from Caracas.

“After that happened, the next few months, we didn’t trust anyone,” the senior 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 he knew who he was talking to.”

That’s what leads us to right now, and the death of 17 people in the Douglas High School shooting.

Safety and peace of mind are why families like the Torrealbas move to a place like Parkland, Florida. You can drive or walk around without fear or worry. Douglas High is the same way, or at least it used to be.

Yorvit told me how he was a little nervous whenever his son had friends over because of the kidnapping. He then joked how there’s so many people who came over that he stopped worrying altogether.

We had this conversation on a park bench in Parkland.

While we talked, Yorvis and one of his friends were playing catch. Here was a father re-living one of the worst experiences of his life. This man, who played one of the toughest positions in sports, got emotional talking about what they’d gone through.

The recurring theme in the conversations I had with this father and his son was safety.

Yorvis was 16 when I wrote that story. As a teenager, he smiled while talking about how he loved having police around because it was safe.

Families like the Torrealbas are all I’ve thought about in the last few days. They are people who sought out communities like Coral Springs, Parkland or Weston for a reason: because they provide the comfort of safety along with having good schools.

Yorvis graduated from Douglas, plays junior college baseball in Florida and next year will play for the University of Tampa.

Looking at his Twitter feed this week, it’s what you would expect. There are tweets and retweets about the violence that descended on his alma mater.

All of it is too hard to ignore. So is something else Yorvis told me.

“I just go outside and I am not worried about anything,” he 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.”

Ryan S. Clark is the Washington Huskies beat reporter for The News Tribune. He spent two years as a sports reporter at the South Florida Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale and later covered Florida State sports for Rivals/Yahoo. Reach him by email at ryan.clark@thenewstribune.com

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