November 8, 2005

Venezuela arrests baseball star Ugueth Urbina

By Patrick Markey

CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) - Baseball star Ugueth Urbina,
who pitched for the Philadelphia Phillies last season, has been
arrested in Venezuela and accused of attempted homicide after
employees at his farm said he attacked them with a machete,
authorities said on Tuesday.

Urbina, a Venezuelan native who made $4 million playing
baseball for two U.S. teams last season, denied accusations
that he and a group of friends attacked his employees last
month after a party at the ranch near Caracas.

"Hopefully this will all be cleared up and people will know
what really happened," Urbina, 31, told reporters as he was
escorted through a police headquarters in Caracas.

Urbina pitched for the Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia
Phillies last season and is now a free agent, meaning he can
sign with any team.

The pitcher was arrested late on Monday at his Caracas home
after prosecutors said they feared he would flee the country.

He faces possible charges of attempted homicide and
criminal conspiracy. He is scheduled to appear around midday in
court on Wednesday when a judge will formally charge him and
rule whether he should remain in custody, his attorney Jose
Luis Tamayo said.

"This is a rash procedure in my opinion and one that is
completely unjustified," Urbina's attorney said. "If he is
denied his freedom, in my opinion he'll lose any possibility of
returning to the Major Leagues," he said.

A star relief pitcher for the 2003 World Series champions
the Florida Marlins, Urbina is one of dozens of Venezuelans
playing professional baseball in the United States. He has also
played for the Montreal Expos and the Boston Red Sox.


Farm workers told their lawyers and local media that Urbina
and his associates beat them, attacked them with machetes and
doused them with gasoline and paint thinner in an attempt to
set fire to them at the ranch.

But the pitcher says he is the victim of blackmail.

Players like Urbina are stars in Venezuela where baseball
is a national passion. Even the country's President Hugo Chavez
sometimes wears a baseball uniform and often talks about his
days as a pitcher when he was a youth in the armed forces.

Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, a native
Venezuelan, last week took the Major League Baseball World
Series trophy to Caracas on its first trip outside North
America after leading his team to victory in October.

Urbina's family was in the headlines earlier this year when
police rescued his mother after she was kidnapped and held for
five months by a gang demanding millions of dollars in ransom.

She was rescued after a gun battle between police and
kidnappers at an abandoned campsite. One of the men captured in
the raid was Gentil Alvis Patino who authorities said was a top
member of a Colombian Marxist rebel group.