MARACAY, Venezuela — The smell of peanuts, cheers of a sellout crowd and air of rivalry filled Jose Perez Colmenares stadium here Saturday for a night of baseball.
But Saturday’s contest between the hosting Tigres de Aragua and Navegantes del Magallanes marked a whole new ballgame, being played just hours after the 51-hour kidnapping and rescue of Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos, who plays for the Tigres in the offseason.
Mr. Ramos was not on the roster, but his ordeal was on the minds of fans of the Tigres and the Magallanes, who hail from neighboring Valencia, where gunmen had snatched Mr. Ramos from his home Wednesday and where he was resting after police and national guard commandos freed him late Friday.
Tigres fan Eurico Rodrigues said he had followed the kidnapping “with quite a bit of sadness” as a dramatic reminder of the violent crime that plagues Venezuela and especially industrial cities like Maracay and Valencia, his hometown.
“It’s a widespread trauma,” said Mr. Rodrigues, a 63-year-old electrical technician. “The people live under stress.”
Fans noted increased security presence at the ballgame, though state police Chief Julio Duran said it was the Venezuelan Professional Baseball League’s responsibility to provide for its players’ security. However, he acknowledged that violent crime is a “serious problem, worsening day by day.”
Meanwhile, the mood in the ballpark was festive, tinged with relief over Mr. Ramos‘ release and excitement over the matchup of two rivals from neighboring cities.
“Un hit!” demanded Magallanes fans, with runners on first and second bases in the top of the third inning.
“Maracay!” retorted Tigres supporters, who mixed peacefully with their rivals in stark contrast to some Latin American soccer matches, where the followers of opposing teams are hermetically separated to avoid clashes.
But baseball here is a family affair. Ana Ramirez, 39, who attended the game with her children — ages 12, 14, 18 and 19 — said she was quite worried about what was going to happen to Ramos and equally relieved that he had been liberated.
Criminals are the only ones to blame for violent crime in Venezuela, she said, but her niece chimed in to disagree.
“[President Hugo] Chavez,” 21-year-old Jessica Bensio yelled, “Chavez doesn’t stop the criminals!”
And as the two engaged in the seemingly endless debate between supporters and detractors of Venezuela’s president, the crowd embarked on its bottom-of-the-sixth version of a seventh-inning stretch, complete with a dancing tiger mascot and fans doing the wave in the stands.
In the end, after three extra innings and a 9-8 Tigres victory, fans flowed out of the brightly lit stadium and into the night, where a locked car is the only way to safely move around the city.
“After a certain time, you cannot be outside,” Mr. Rodrigues, the technician, said quietly. “You live incarcerated.”