You won’t come across many stories more bizarre than those involving former major league reliever Ugueth Urbina over the 2 1/2 year period that led up to his attempted murder conviction in 2007.
If you don’t recall all of the details, in September of 2004, Urbina’s mother, Maura Villarreal, was kidnapped and held for $6 million ransom in their native Venezuela. Urbina’s family steadfastly refused to meet the kidnappers’ demands, which led to a successful commando-style rescue operation and her safe return home a little more than five months later.
Despite that horrifying ordeal, Urbina was able to refocus and continue his big league career in 2005, pitching for both the Philadelphia Phillies and Detroit Tigers, saving 10 games along the way. He then returned to Venezuela again in the offseason, and that's when his life took an even stranger turn.
On Nov. 7, Urbina was arrested and charged with attempted murder three weeks after being accused of attacking five farm workers on his ranch property with a machete and dousing them in gasoline. At first it was believed the incident was an act of revenge on Urbina's part to get back at people he believed to be involved in his mother's kidnapping, but it was later reported that Urbina had accused the men of stealing his gun and took the law into his own hands.
On March 28, 2007, Urbina was convicted on the attempted murder charges and sentenced to 14 years in a Venezuelan prison. His professional baseball career, which was obviously viewed from a much different perspective by that moment, seemingly going right along with it.
All of that backstory leads us to the here and now, as earlier in the week Urbina was released from prison eight years and three months early for good behavior. His son, Juan Urbina, a pitching prospect in the New York Mets organization, quickly took to Twitter to both confirm and celebrate his father's release.
Finalmente con mi Padre! twitter.com/JuanUrbina51/s…
— Juan Urbina (@JuanUrbina51) December 23, 2012
What has also been confirmed in the wake of Urbina's release is that he managed to stay in shape by continuing to play baseball in prison. Reports out of Venezuela even say that the now 38-year-old right-hander still possesses a fastball that can hit 90 mph, which would be pretty remarkable if true. And it appears we'll soon learn if those reports are in fact true, because Urbina is already prepared to take the first necessary steps towards resuming his career after showing up to University Stadium in Caracas on Friday night with a smile on his face and a clear plan to resume his career in the United States.
"The first order of business is pitching in Venezuela," Urbina told reporters. He also added that he's "more mature" and just "excited to be playing baseball again" after it looked like that opportunity would never be afforded to him, at least on a professional level.
Urbina's comeback attempt will be interesting to say the least. It's not exactly a story I'll be emotionally invested in or actively rooting to see end happily, but just to see what he has left in the tank and which teams might be willing to take the gamble will make it worth following. When all is said and done, I'm guessing we've seen the last of him in MLB, but a comeback from these circumstances would certainly be unique and worth applauding from an athletic standpoint.
Apparently Urbina started as many as three charitable organizations during his time prison as well, which is great to hear. Even if he can't make it all the way back, let's hope he continues to make positive contributions on that level. But above all, let's just hope he's able to make good, sound decisions and find happiness after paying off his debts to society.