VIERA, Fla. - The ink on the inside of his left forearm, only a week old, speaks to the happy resolution Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos prefers not to speak of. In black script among a bevy of sky-blue highlights are the words, “Todo lo puedo en Cristo, que me fortalice” - “I put everything in Jesus, because he’s got my back,” Ramos said by way of translation - along with the Bible verse, Philippians 4:13, where the saying originated and the date “11-11-11.”
Last Nov. 11 will forever be etched in Ramos’ memory as the day he was rescued in his native Venezuela after being held by kidnappers for two days. Because the case is still being actively investigated by Venezuelan authorities, and out of concern for his family members still there, the Nationals won’t permit Ramos to speak of the ordeal. But Ramos, who reported to spring training Monday, met with reporters today to speak on life after last November, and how happy he is to be putting the kidnapping behind him and focusing again on baseball.
“I’m excited to be here with my friends and play baseball again. ... I’m really, really happy to be here,” Ramos said.
He tried to move on quickly after the abduction, returning as planned to his Venezuelan Winter League team, los Tigres de Aragua. His defense was OK, but he hit like a player with his mind elsewhere, managing only a .218 average, one home run and five RBIs in 25 games. Still, he wanted to offer tangible thanks to the teammates, opponents and fans who stood behind him after armed men took him hostage in his hometown of Valencia.
Ramos’ kidnapping wasn’t the only unsettling incident the Tigres endured. In late December, pitcher Rosman Garcia was killed in an automobile accident. Losing a teammate made Ramos even more determined to concentrate on the game he loved.
“I tried to clear my mind, put my mind on baseball,” he said. “During the regular (winter league) season, I was thinking too much. I was concentrating a lot on my defense. I (did) not hit pretty good there, but I put my mind 100 percent behind the plate, handling pitchers. So I just worked a lot behind the plate. I played there because I was trying to put my mind on baseball. If I stayed at my house, I was thinking too much. I played baseball there because I was trying to clear my mind.”
As teammates old and new reported to Space Coast Stadium over the past couple of days, they have eagerly sought out Ramos for a friendly embrace and words of encouragement. Ramos seems a little uncomfortable by all the attention, and wants to make sure he controls where the focus is placed.
“I say to those guys I don’t want to talk about that, I want to concentrate on baseball,” he said while speaking to the media in the first base dugout. “I want to focus on baseball and to play hard and help my team.”
He’ll definitely get that opportunity. Manager Davey Johnson already has Ramos pegged as his No. 1 catcher and he’ll be tasked with shepherding hard-throwing Stephen Strasburg through his first full season following Tommy John surgery, and new arrivals Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson through their first season as Nationals.
“I’m ready for that responsibility,” Ramos said. “I don’t know the rotation right now, but if those guys believe in me, I will help those guys to win. I want to help my team work hard, play hard and try to make the playoffs.”
During Tuesday’s first workout for pitchers and catchers, Ramos was paired with Strasburg for the initial side session of the spring. Strasburg’s heavy fastball hit Ramos’ mitt with the proper thud and at the end of a few minutes, Ramos told Strasburg how well he’d thrown.
Nationals manager Davey Johnson considers the kidnapping to be old news and pointed to Ramos’ decision to return to winter ball as proof of how quickly the healing process began.
“I asked him while he was catching, ...’Willie, how much of winter ball did you get after that ordeal?’ And he said, ‘I played a month and a half.’ To me, I know it’s a down story day that you’ll want to rehash, but as far as I’m concerned, that thing’s over, it’s history,” Johnson said. “It tells me he’s eager to get on the field and eager to put it behind him.”
Catching the April 12 home opener against the Reds would be a special thrill for Ramos, but that has more to do with baseball ceremony than the exuberant welcome that will likely greet him when he’s announced at Nationals Park for the first time since his rescue.
“I want to catch the first game,” he said. “If they give me the opportunity I will be very, very excited. Hopefully, the fans will maybe stand up and ... say good words for me. I want to hear that.”
Ramos spent several weeks at his Miami home before reporting to spring training, and said he plans to have his mother and sister visit him for a month in D.C. this summer, followed by his brother.
“I’ve got new life,” Ramos said. “Everybody, my family, is happy for me. Before the (kidnapping), my family was a little separated and now everybody is together. That’s good for me and for my family. I will play hard for my family and my team.”