Each player for the La Crosse Loggers has his own share of worries.
Some are concerned with developing a specific part of their game to strengthen contribution to a college team next spring. Others are worried about getting the academic schedule they need for the fall.
But for Venezuelan-born Jorge Gutierrez, a 20-year old utility player from Texas A&M, the anxiety that accompanies thoughts of his home country tops the list.
As the Loggers earned their first winning streak of the summer two weeks into the second half of the season, the worsening crisis in Gutierrez’s home country — all of his relatives still live there — has reached a critical point. The economic crisis in Venezuela has worsened in recent months amid devastating food and medicine shortages.
Gutierrez was born and raised in Venezuela, where his dad played professional baseball. Gutierrez’s first memory at a baseball field was going to one of his dad’s games, and he saw his dad hit a home run.
When Gutierrez was 6 years old, his mom got a job promotion, and his family packed up everything for a move to the United States. Around the time of that move, his sister was born. Gutierrez learned English in a year after arriving, and became a U.S. citizen last September.
Gutierrez is thankful that none of his extended family in Venezuela has been part of the casualties that have accompanied the current crisis. But he said they still struggle to meet their basic needs.
“Even though it’s not too tough (for his relatives in Venezuela), it’s still very hard,” said Gutierrez, who was batting .195 with two home runs and six RBI through 22 games after driving in a run in Wednesday afternoon’s 7-0 win over Rochester. “A carton of eggs costs a hundred dollars, and you can’t go grocery shopping because there’s nothing in the stores. It’s not just stuff they put in the news, it’s happening. I know for a fact that it’s happening.”
Gutierrez’s youngest cousins are unable to get the medicine they need, and another is a doctor who struggles with getting that medicine. Gutierrez’s grandmother recently expressed interest in relocating to live with his family in the U.S. because it’s safer and more comfortable for a person her age.
Gutierrez says that he’s still able to get locked into baseball when he needs to, but it’s impossible for him to keep his mind from wandering to how much he misses and worries about his family. When Gutierrez isn’t playing baseball, that’s his constant focus.
“When I’m off the field, I’m with my family, or calling or thinking about them,” Gutierrez said. “Just trying to be happy, and grateful for all the opportunities I have here in the states that my mom and dad worked so hard for me to have.”
Traveling to Venezuela has become significantly harder, and that has slowed his previous routine of visiting the country every other year. For now, Gutierrez can only hope that he’ll be able to visit his family in Venezuela someday soon.
“We are very optimistic,” he said. “And (we) hope and pray every day that things will get better, because we do want to go back for so many reasons, with the biggest being to see our family.”