MINNEAPOLIS—Former general manager Bill Smith has spent several months in Venezuela over the years, and he told the St. Paul Pioneer Press in November that he has "never had a minute when I didn't feel safe."
Twins players can't say the same.
Joe Benson, who spent most of the 2011 season playing center field for Double-A New Britain before a September callup, was robbed at gunpoint on his first day in Venezuela, farm director Jim Rantz said.
"It was a pretty scary deal," Rantz said. "He was just going down to play winter ball, and right away, this happens. He was shaken up, understandably."
Benson was taking a cab from the airport in Caracas to Maracay, where he and Rock Cats teammate Yangervis Solarte were to play for Aragua of the Venezuelan League, along with a handful of Twins pitching prospects.
But as the cab reached the end of a tunnel leading to the main highway, a boulder blocked the road. When the driver got out to push it out of the way, several gunmen surrounded the cab. Benson's luggage, wallet and credit cards were stolen.
"Basically, they took everything he had with him," Rantz said.
The Twins helped provide him with replacements, but Benson stayed in Venezuela for just 17 games, batting .216/.355/.373 before returning to the United States.
"A lot of our players have had some good experiences down there over the years," Rantz said. "Given how it started, it just wasn't a good situation for Joe."
The Twins have some experience dealing with lawlessness in Venezuela. The sister of lefty reliever Jose Mijares was wounded by gunfire during a robbery a few years ago. And when Venezuelan catcher Wilson Ramos—who was himself kidnapped in early November before being rescued by Venezuelan police—was in the Twins system, his sister was held for ransom, Rantz said.
• Second baseman Brian Dinkelman, who appeared in 23 games for the Twins in 2011, re-signed with the organization on a minor league contract. Former Reds righthander Jared Burton also signed a minor league deal. Both players were invited to Twins spring training.
• Among minor league players who were granted free agency shortly after the World Series were Solarte, lefthander Chuck James, catchers Allan de San Miguel and Jair Fernandez, and middle infielder Toby Gardenhire (son of Twins manager Ron).