Ramos grateful to be back in Nats camp
Catcher ready to get year started after offseason scare
By Bill Ladson / MLB.com | 02/21/12 4:30 PM EST
VIERA, Fla. -- If one saw catcher Wilson Ramos at the Nationals' Spring Training complex on Tuesday morning, one would have never thought he went through a major ordeal this past offseason.
There was Ramos in the bullpen, catching throws from Stephen Strasburg, Yunesky Maya and Atahualpa Severino. Ramos, 24, then went on the diamond and worked on his skills behind the plate, catching fastballs and breaking balls off a pitching tee.
About 15 minutes later, Ramos joined a handful of catchers and took batting practice. Manager Davey Johnson was watching Ramos closely, making sure that his catcher was short to the ball. Ramos was hitting the ball hard during the session, even hitting a couple of balls that went over the fence.
"He was impressive," Johnson said. "He was short to the ball and he said he felt good doing it. It's just a minor thing, but it's really major. By [being short to the ball], he can reach more of his potential that we have for him than he has for himself. It's easy with the guys that I've had a relationship with."
Ramos said he felt comfortable being around his baseball family during the first day of workouts.
"I'm excited to be here with my friends and play baseball again," Ramos said. "Now I concentrate and see everybody, the new guys, the new pitchers. I'm really, really happy to be here again." There was a time last November when Ramos thought he might never play baseball again. On Nov. 9, Ramos was abducted from the front yard of his mother's home outside of Valencia, Venezuela. He was rescued by Venezuelan authorities two days later during an air operation in the mountains in the state of Carabobo, roughly 40 miles northwest of where he was abducted.
After the ordeal ended, Ramos took time off before returning to action and playing for Tigres de Aragua of the Venezuelan Winter League.
"I was trying to clear my mind, put my mind on baseball," Ramos said. "During the regular season [in Venezuela], I concentrated a lot on my defense. I didn't hit there, but I put my mind 100 percent behind the plate. If I had stayed in my house, I would be thinking too much. I played baseball there because I was trying to clear my mind."
Ramos now has a greater appreciation for life and the opportunities given to him. More than ever, he appreciates how the fans in Venezuela supported him after he was rescued. He appreciated the cheers and ovation given to him once he stepped on the playing field.
Ramos never had any doubt about his faith in the Lord during the kidnapping. Recently, Ramos had a tattoo put on his forearm, which said "I have everything in Jesus because he has my back. 11-11-11." Nov. 11 was the day Ramos was rescued.
"When I made my debut there after the case, everybody stood up, everybody said my name. ... That's very exciting for me," Ramos said. "I stayed there because I wanted the fans to see that all the big league players play in Venezuela. That's exciting for the fans. [I wanted to let them know] we can stay there and play."
The Nationals are hoping that Ramos stays with them for a long time. He is considered one of the top young catchers in the National League. In his first full season in the big leagues last year, Ramos hit .267 with 15 home runs and 52 RBIs in 113 games. Those numbers are expected to increase this year.
Ramos also is expected to handle one of the best rotations in baseball, led by Gio Gonzalez and Strasburg. Ramos learned a lot from his mentor, Ivan Rodriguez, and he hopes that knowledge from Pudge carries over into the games.
"I will try to let those guys know I'm ready to be behind the plate," Ramos said. "I don't know the rotation now, but if those guys believe in me, I will help those guys to win. I want to help my team to work hard and try to make the playoffs."
Gonzalez said he can't wait to throw to Ramos in a game.
"He is a big guy, big frame. ... He is going to give you a strike zone that could maybe get a couple of inches off the plate and a couple of inches in," Gonzalez said. "That's what you want. When you have a big target like that, that is going to give you more to work with. It's going to be exciting. I'm really looking forward to throwing to him."
And the Nationals are looking forward to that, too.