Braves’ Prado sees success lead to problems in Venezuela

Martin Prado is an All-Star for the Braves but he is encountering the downside to success in his native Venezuela. (Jason Getz/AJC)

Martin Prado was the Braves' most indespensible player last season but he's experiencing the downside of success in his native Venezuela. (Jason Getz/jgetz@ajc.com)

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – A young boy in Venezuela had a dream. He wanted to be smart. He wanted to fix machines. He wanted to help his mother and his siblings and his nephews because there were 12 people living in one small three-bedroom house, some sleeping on the floor, and he believed in hard work and devouring books on industrial mechanics would lead to a better life.

“I wouldn’t say we were poor,” Martin Prado said. “We had kids around and everybody knew how hard it was. But we were all together. Sometimes we had a hard time finding something to eat. But we found ways to help each other. That’s what I love about my family — we are always together.”

We read a lot about athletes with misplaced priorities. Some change with wealth and success. Some never had it right to begin with. Prado is one of the good ones.

He emerged as the Braves’ most valuable player last season until his year was ended by a hip pointer and a torn oblique muscle, two extremely painful injuries he probably would have tried to play through if doctors hadn’t duct-taped him to a training table.

He played three positions (second, third and first base). This season, he will play left field. Why? Because he can and that’s where the Braves need him. He batted first, second and third last season. Why? Because he can. He led starters in hitting (.307), plate appearances (651), runs (100), hits (184), doubles (40), slugging percentage (.459) and was fourth in home runs (15) and RBIs (66). He also played in the All-Star Game.

“I go to Los Angeles and they treated me like a king,” he said. “I felt like a little kid.”

Not bad  for a former undrafted obscurity at Universidad Central de Venezuela who was going to school just to learn how to fix machines for a living.

Now he is a star. He is seeing the good and the bad of that.

Prado recently taped a humorous television commercial for the Braves. He will be seen as the organization’s Mr. Everthing. He plays the stadium organ, introduces players on the PA, fixes a computer, gives the weather forecast, models a watch. He also gives financial advice to team president John Schuerholz.

“In these volatile economic times, you want to diversify your portfolio,” Prado tells a riveted Schuerholz.

“I had a lot of fun with it,” Prado said. “I never thought I’d be on camera doing a commercial. Chipper told me he was on a commercial once and all he said was, ‘Bam.’ I have to try to say something about ‘diversify portfolio.’ It took me 12 or 15 times, and I don’t even know what that means.”

He is as loved and respected as any player in the clubhouse. He should be. He captains the first-to-arrive/last-to-leave club. In spring training, he arrives at 6:30 a.m. He works non-stop on his strength, conditioning and his game.

Chipper Jones calls Prado the baseball version of a gym rat.

“You almost have to pull the reins in and say, ‘Hey, go home,’” Jones said, “Sometimes I’ve been in here late getting treatment. Everybody else is gone, and he’s still in his uni, doing something.”

But it’s not all love. In Venezuela, Prado and his family are learning the downside of celebrity. While he has his supporters, he is encountering an increasing amount of anger and jealousy back home because of his success.

“People try to get into your family and split it,” he said. “Back in Venezuela they don’t want you to be happy because they are jealous. They are like, ‘Look at the guy, he’s a baseball player. Look at the family, they’re just having fun. They’re partying, having a barbecue.’ People start fights with each other.

“Before I got to the big leagues, I thought people would be proud if I made it. Don’t get me wrong, some are happy for me. But most of the regular people there are not [happy for me].”

As a youth, he vacuumed cars, fixed and painted school chairs. Everybody in the family helped out. At 17, he was told by scouts he had the talent to play professional baseball. He initially balked, not wanting to leave college. Prado: “But my mother said, ‘Sure, go ahead. You’re young.’”

He vowed to bring his work ethic to baseball.

“I wanted to try to be the best, or close to it, and the only way you get there is to take this seriously every single day,” he said. “I’m not trying to impress people. I’m just trying to impress myself.”

He is smart. He is fixing things: the Braves. Dream achieved.

By Jeff Schultz

Last few posts from Braves’ camp

Kawakami arrives at Braves camp — and why is he here?

Braves need McLouth or Schafer to end looniness in center

ESPN’s Buster Olney: Braves may beat out Phillies in East

Braves’ Lee Elia knows hitting (and what not to say anymore)

Chipper Jones gets hit in return and takes a swing at critics

Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC; friend me at Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

82 comments Add your comment

braves fan

March 2nd, 2011
3:07 pm

first..wow!….thats pretty cool

gotta love Prado!

redeye

March 2nd, 2011
3:11 pm

A day late and a dollar short again.

TommyJack

March 2nd, 2011
3:16 pm

Gareth Bale

March 2nd, 2011
3:16 pm

Does the political situation in Venezuela have anything to do with the problems he is having back home?

chc4

March 2nd, 2011
3:19 pm

Venezuela has some things in common with the U.S. then. I’ll never understand why some people look down on or are jealous of those that make their own success.

JCallaway

March 2nd, 2011
3:19 pm

I wish we had 25 Prados on the Braves!

Hankie Aron

March 2nd, 2011
3:20 pm

Great story. Prado is quickly becoming my favorite Brave, and I’m Hankie Aron dagnabit

Paul H

March 2nd, 2011
3:20 pm

Love this guy. Find a way to keep him here for good.

ATLgirl

March 2nd, 2011
3:22 pm

i love this! Prado is amazing. cant wait for the commercial to air. also cant wait to see what he does on the field this year.

Sleeze

March 2nd, 2011
3:26 pm

Wish we just had 2 Prados as sports columnists for the AJC..

Tucker T

March 2nd, 2011
3:26 pm

Too bad people back home are acting like that. Maybe he can bring some of his family to the states.

GT Alum

March 2nd, 2011
3:28 pm

Is there anything not to like about this guy? Seems like with guys like him, Heyward and Freeman leading the Braves, we’ll have plenty to be proud about on and off the field.

justin1

March 2nd, 2011
3:38 pm

Awesome. Where is the commercial?

Paul H

March 2nd, 2011
3:41 pm

Good piece, Jeff. I’m enjoying your columns providing insight into the players. It’s cool getting to know the team.

TM923

March 2nd, 2011
3:45 pm

Gotta love Prado…
He is my favorite Brave to watch every night.
Keep up the hard work and bring it the field every night Martin!

PMC

March 2nd, 2011
3:47 pm

Haters gonna hate. Don’t let them get you down Martin.

The Original WDE

March 2nd, 2011
3:58 pm

Can’t wait for the season to get here, and to crack open my first spring homebrew: Bobby Beer!

JML Dawg

March 2nd, 2011
3:59 pm

Dictator Chavez is one of those “spread the wealth” guys. Diversifying your portfolio, hopefully in the U.S., would be a wise move Martin, before Chavez “nationalizes” your income.
In the meantime, I’m pulling for you. Glad you’re a Brave!

Love 'dem Braves

March 2nd, 2011
4:09 pm

What an honorable man. Shame on those who don’t support him! The Braves are so lucky to have him in their clubhouse!! Keep up the good work Prado…we’re all behind you!

joe

March 2nd, 2011
4:16 pm

Chavez=Obama Go Prado, Go Braves!

Reggie

March 2nd, 2011
4:16 pm

I hope they give him an el giganti contract sooner than later.

bruce

March 2nd, 2011
4:20 pm

Marteeeeeeen!!!!!

chc4

March 2nd, 2011
4:22 pm

Worst part about Chavez (and all dictators) is that their “spread the wealth” mantra applies to everyone except themselves. They get rich off of their citizens while the rest of the country rots.

Tami

March 2nd, 2011
4:38 pm

OK…Prado is one of my new favorites on the team, and after reading this article, he’s even MORE a favorite. Venezuela should be proud, not jealous. But you can’t please everyone in life. He’s learning that fact of life right now.

Ouch

March 2nd, 2011
4:40 pm

My head hurts

Jeff Schultz

March 2nd, 2011
4:42 pm

I like hugo chavez. I wish obama would copy his commie style.

Snellville Braves fan

March 2nd, 2011
4:43 pm

You gotta love Prado. My favorite player.

Jack Nine Offsuit

March 2nd, 2011
4:45 pm

It’s so easy to root for the Braves. Players like Prado, McCann, Hudson, Heyward, Uggla, Ross—they GET it. Sure wish their attitudes would rub off on the Hawks…….

GrammarKing

March 2nd, 2011
4:51 pm

I love Martin Prado, great ball player. Now, my fiancee REALLY loves him. She held a sign at every game we went to last year that read “Martin, I want your babies!!”. I never bought her seats close enough for him to read the sign, though!

Dirty Dawg

March 2nd, 2011
4:53 pm

There are a lot of great major league ball players from Venezuela and surely they have figured out how to ‘cope’ back home. Don’t know how it is now but some ten to twelve years back, particularly around Caracas, kidnapping was a real issue…not like Mexico City but something to be concerned about. Hopefully, that’s not gonna be an issue for Martin.

I hope those that are posting here about Chavez are doing something other than just ‘buying into’ the Communist Dictator label they see and hear, cause the things he did after he was ‘elected’, yes ‘elected’, to office did wonders for the vast majority of the people of Venezuela. Huge improvements in health-care, education, living conditions, job opportunities, etc., for millions. As far as spreading the wealth, the main thing he did was to see to it that Venezuelans were appropriately compensated for all that oil that Big Oil – from everywhere but there – had been taking out of their country for decades, and if that meant more opportunities for the poorest of their citizens, so be it…including the opportunity for Martin to go to school to learn how to fix machines.

Cherokee Brave

March 2nd, 2011
5:04 pm

We went down to spring training last week and he was the last one off the field. Then he stayed and gave autographs to every single person waiting to see him. What an an incredibly humble and gracious guy. So glad he is part of this team.

DunwoodyBrave

March 2nd, 2011
5:07 pm

Prado is the kind of player who when his contract is up, you hand him a blank check and tell him to write in the figure he thinks is right. And danged if he wouldn’t write in $500,000 and ask you to donate two-thirds to charity.

Idaho Brave

March 2nd, 2011
5:12 pm

I love Prado’s work ethic and team first attitude!! What a great role model for young players. Have another great year Martin!!!

thunderbull56

March 2nd, 2011
5:16 pm

Familiararity breeds comtempt! It’s universal my favorite Brave,you found a kernel of corn,who will help you prepare and cook the corn? Who will help you eat the corn?

Kurdt Kobain

March 2nd, 2011
5:33 pm

I feel obligated to point out that Chavez is not a communist, though he is a dictator. I know nobody cares and people love to throw around the word “communist” to describe everyone who’s not a die-hard capitalist, or people they just don’t like, but still.

I heart Prado. Wouldn’t trade him for anyone.

Darryl Blackberry

March 2nd, 2011
5:35 pm

Love this guy. I could see him playing till his late 40s, venturing into Julio Franco territory…

Darryl Blackberry

March 2nd, 2011
5:36 pm

Er, Prado, that is. Not Hugo Chavez.

TRUE FAN

March 2nd, 2011
5:39 pm

Schultzie boy sucks. Don’t stand too close to Prado, Jeff. Your slime might ooze off on him.

athensmatt

March 2nd, 2011
5:45 pm

nice article, jeff! prado is one of my favorites, i hope he has a long career in atlanta.

PondJohn

March 2nd, 2011
6:20 pm

What’s in the water down there..Big Cat was the same way…Infante is rock solid too ( Boo Hoo) Hope Martin is a BRAVO 4 LIFE! Guys like him are why baseball is our pastime or at least used to be. Long may you run “Martin the Machine” !

The Nature Boy

March 2nd, 2011
6:33 pm

Does he have his papers and is Prado his real name? Before gangin up we have already caught one player hoodwinkin us…..WOOO

The Nature Boy

March 2nd, 2011
6:35 pm

Charlie Sheen or Glenn Beck, who is more of a nut?….Discuss.

Dr. Phil

March 2nd, 2011
6:48 pm

Good article about an outstanding baseball player and good guy. I don’t know what is going on in Venezuela, but Prado is a class guy, who represents his country well. We are lucky to have him.

DaveinNEPA

March 2nd, 2011
7:10 pm

I’m still amazed that it took the exalted, (now retired) manager 3 1/2 seasons to realize that this guy is a much better player than the guy who was playing 2b every day.

Terry Funk

March 2nd, 2011
7:11 pm

awesome blog Jeff..I’m no expert on Venezuela, but I think they lack a large middle class..you’re either poor or wealthy because of oil…and I know soccer is king….I love Prado..too bad his family has to deal with jealous people..I guess that’s life…nuts…howcome nobody is jealous of me..??!!

@ The Nature Boy…my neighbor is your plastic surgeon…dude you need pay him…he’s NOT happy….don’t be a scumbag..pay up

Heather Smith

March 2nd, 2011
7:40 pm

He is a ballplayer. A true ballplayer. Marry me!!!

Hawke

March 2nd, 2011
8:01 pm

Thanks Dirty Dawg for actually doing some research before commenting…it’s rewarding to see people actually present facts and not just react…Martin Prado is a world class baseball dude…thank God we are lucky enough to have him

native

March 2nd, 2011
8:22 pm

Dirty Dawg’s “research” is severely lacking….yes Chavez was somewhat elected the first time. Since then all of the elections have been rigged and his is just another tinpot dictatorship. And his “spreading the wealth” is nothing but a ploy to keep his minions happy and himself comfortably in power. It ain’t just the oil companies he’s nationalized down there….

dawg4u

March 2nd, 2011
8:43 pm

Good article Jeff. I thought that with Prado and a healthy Billy Wagner in last year’s playoffs that we maybe could have advanced. Brooks Conrad bursted that bubble but I really thought that Prado was our MVP until the injury. If he can stay healthy this year and we can get about 125 games from Chipper then I think we can go far this season.

dawg4u

March 2nd, 2011
8:48 pm

I don’t mean to dog out Brooks Conrad because he won for us one of the most exciting games of the year against Cincy and I think he has a great future with this team. He was a good player for most of the year with the Braves and provided great drama and comeback wins for our team.