Tuesday, February 21, 2012
Wilson Ramos moves on after ordeal
VIERA, Fla. -- Three months have passed since Wilson Ramos' budding baseball career was interrupted by a gunpoint kidnapping in his native Venezuela.
Yet there the 24-year-old catcher was Tuesday, smiling and laughing alongside his Washington Nationals teammates during their first full workout for pitchers and catchers.
Immediately following his ordeal, Ramos was emotional and candid in talking about the harrowing two days he was held in the Venezuelan mountains before being freed by an equally daring, bullet-filled rescue.
Now as he prepares for his second full season in Washington, Ramos said he has put the ordeal behind him and wants to only talk about baseball going forward.
"I feel like I'm living again," Ramos said. "I've got a new life. Everybody in my family is happy with me. My family before was a little separated, and now everybody's together. So that's good for me and my family. I'm happy for that and I will play hard for my family and my team."
Last season Ramos became the primary catcher for the Nationals, appearing in 113 games.
In line to be the Opening Day starter in 2012, he decided to go home to Venezuela to play winter ball to prepare.
Before he could play his first game, however, Ramos was seized outside his parents' home one night and driven away by his abductors. It was the first known kidnapping of a Major League Baseball player in Venezuela, and the abduction set off an outpouring of candlelight vigils and public prayers at stadiums as well as outside the family home.
After his rescue he spent only about a week recuperating before rejoining the Aragua Tigers. Just 13 days after his rescue he was on the field and in uniform for their opening day.
He initially struggled during the Tigers' 25-game regular season, hitting just .217 with one home run and 21 strikeouts. But following the car accident death of teammate Rosman Garcia, who pitched for the Texas Rangers in 2003 and 2004, something clicked for Ramos and his winter league teammates.
They reached the Venezuelan Winter League playoffs and eventually won the championship series, with Ramos going 9 for 20.
"I was more relaxed and not thinking too much at the end of the season," Ramos said. "That thing helped me a lot to finish strong. When we lost one of our teammates, it was very hard for us. And we concentrated on winning the finals...That thing helped the team to play harder. We dedicated that final to him."
Ramos said there was never any hesitation about continuing his winter league season after his kidnapping.
"I played there because I wanted to get my mind on baseball," he said. "If I stayed in my house I was thinking too much. I played baseball there because I was trying to clear my mind."
He said the reception he got from the fans there was equally helpful for him.
"They give me a lot of support," Ramos said. "They believe in me, so they helped me a lot with everything. During the games everybody clapped their hands and said a lot of good words for me. "
Nationals manager Davey Johnson watched Tuesday as Ramos caught for Stephen Strasburg during bullpen work and said he has no doubt that Ramos can live up the expectations they have for him this season.
With a productive Ramos, he said he thinks the Nationals' catchers are among the best in baseball.
"He was catching Strasburg and I asked him how much baseball he got in after that ordeal and he said 'A month and a half.' And so to me ... as far as I'm concerned that thing's over. It's history," Johnson said. "And it tells me that he was eager to get on the field and eager to put it behind him by playing a month and a half of winter ball after something like that."
Likewise, since reporting to the Nationals, Ramos said his teammates have honored his wishes and not discussed what happened to him.
Mechanically, Johnson said Ramos looks "awfully good" and has made improvements in areas he suggested for him heading into the offseason.
While Ramos is clearly moving on from his kidnapping, he did get a living memorial to it tattooed on his arm recently.
First there is the date -- 11/11/11 -- for the day he was rescued. There are also words written in Spanish, which Ramos happily translates.
"I put everything in Jesus because he's got my back," he says.
Ramos said he anticipates Opening Day in Washington to be extra special after everything he's been through.
"Yeah, because I want to catch the first game," he said. "If the team gives me that opportunity, I will be very excited. ... Hopefully fans will stand up, wave their hands and say a couple of good words for me. I want to hear that."