CARACAS, Venezuela - Officials said Thursday they have found the vehicle used by armed men who abducted Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos, a case that highlights a sharp rise in kidnappings in Venezuela.
Police found the kidnappers' vehicle abandoned in a nearby town and were gathering evidence, Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami told reporters Thursday morning. He said anti-kidnapping units were dispatched to the area in central Carabobo state.
The 24-year-old Venezuelan player, who had just finished his rookie season, was seized from his home by kidnappers on Wednesday night.
"The abductors haven't made contact with the family or with anyone," said Domingo Alvarez, vice president of the Venezuelan Professional Baseball League, in a telephone interview. "We're worried."
Ramos was taken away in an SUV by four armed men from his home in Santa Ines, spokeswoman Katherine Vilera of his Venezuelan team, the Aragua Tigers, said on her official Twitter account.
Police last year said that 618 kidnappings were reported in 2009, and the numbers have grown rapidly in recent years. Security experts say the real number of kidnappings is much higher because many cases aren't reported to authorities.
The wealthy in Venezuela have taken steps to protect themselves; sales of armored cars have soared in the past several years. Bodyguards also typically shadow Major League players when they return to their homeland to play in the winter league.
"Every Major League player has his own security, but we don't know if at that time he had his security there," Alvarez said. He said it's the first time a Major League Baseball player has been abducted in the country, though other players' relatives have been held for ransom in the past.
A person close to Ramos' family, who asked not to be quoted by name out of safety concerns, said the catcher was at home with his father and brothers when several men "entered the house and took him away."
Drew Storen, a relief pitcher for the Nationals, tweeted his concerns: "Extremely upsetting news about Ramo. Thoughts and prayers with him. Scary situation."
Ramos is considered one of the key young players for the Nationals as they try to become a contender in the National League East. As a rookie in 2011, he hit .267 with 15 home runs and 52 RBIs in 113 games. He also threw out 19 of 67 runners attempting to steal a base, a 28 percent success rate that ranked third among qualifying catchers in the National League.
Washington acquired Ramos from the Minnesota Twins in a trade for All-Star relief pitcher Matt Capps in July 2010.