Alexi Amarista's tragic past

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- When a minor-league player gets his first big-league call-up, the first person he often calls is his father.

When Alexi Amarista was asked if he had spoken to his father back home in Venezuela, he said, "No," and the 22-year-old infielder pointed toward the sky.

Amarista’s father, also named Alexi, has been gone for a little more than five months, murdered during a home-invasion robbery in his home country that turned violent.

"My family was very happy for me," Amarista said. "I wish my father could see it, too."

The crime occurred in Amarista's home town of Barcelano Anzoategui at around midnight on Nov. 14. The elder Amarista, who was the manager of a professional softball team, was at a friend's house when four strangers burst in with the intent to rob them, according to reports. Amarista was killed during a struggle with one of the assailants.

One man, Jose Molina, 18, was sentenced to 15 years in prison after confessing to the crime, according to the Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional. Two others, who were minors, received shorter sentences in a juvenile facility.

Violent crime has been epidemic in Venezuela for years. In 2009, there were 4,644 civilian deaths from violence in Iraq. In Venezuela that year, the number of murders climbed higher than 16,000.

Amarista was playing winter ball at the time of his father's death. The Angels were aware he could need some time when he showed up to big-league camp in the spring. He reported to camp only three months after his father's death.

"We had to be cognizant of it, because you don't know how he's going to hold up. He could be in the tank and you wouldn't know why. You never know what the residual of something like that is going to be," said Angels farm director Abe Flores. "I just feel so bad for him. It was so senseless."

If anything, the tragedy seems to be inspiring Amarista's play. He was batting .455 with 16 RBIs in 14 games at Triple-A Salt Lake. The Angels called him up to provide some infield coverage while Maicer Izturis recovers from a mildly strained hamstring, but also to inject some offense in a struggling lineup. He likely will start at second base Tuesday night.

Listed generously at 5-foot-8, Amarista's game has always been bigger than his stature. He batted .400 in 65 Triple-A at-bats last season. He is a .320 lifetime hitter in the minors.

"He's not scared," Flores said. "He plays big."