- The Washington Times - Friday, November 18, 2011

Wilson Ramos walked into the Washington Nationals’ clubhouse Friday morning as if it were any other day. As if the Nationals catcher, his 6-foot, 220-pound frame cutting the same sturdy profile as it does when he’s strapping on the catching equipment, was heading out to the field for one of 162 on a summer day.

The clubhouse was different — barren without the teammates and uniforms that fill it throughout the summer. And as Ramos and general manager Mike Rizzo spoke for a few minutes on a soft leather couch set up where the lockers of teammates Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa sat last season, they were different, too.

A week ago, Ramos was in captivity — held at the mercy of kidnappers who abducted him at gunpoint from his home in Santa Ines, Venezuela on Wednesday evening — and unsure of what would happen until the authorities rescued him following a firefight with the kidnappers late last Friday night. While the baseball world worried and prayed for his safe return, his family, the Nationals and their fans also went through an emotional ringer.

When Ramos arrived at Nationals Park on Friday for his examination with the team’s doctors — after which he was given a clean bill of health and said to be in “terrific” shape — he was greeted with an outpouring of emotion from the team’s front office executives, akin to that of a son returning from war. Tears welled up in the eyes of many as Ramos assured them all that he was fine — and in good spirits — and made his way down to the clubhouse where clubhouse manager Mike Wallace had saved a collection of the signs and posters from the fans’ vigil to show him.

“It was a really emotional time for us,” Rizzo said. “A lot of people were sitting on their hands just waiting for some information. It was very difficult, and the emotion that we got when he was found safe was really remarkable. I get emotional when I talk about it now. It’s one of our own. He is a family member, and when things are that dangerous, it goes way beyond baseball. When I saw him today, it was great.”

While Ramos looked happy and relaxed in a pale blue button-up shirt, jeans and sneakers, he offered a brief statement and listened on as Rizzo discussed the feelings that had been bubbling up for a week inside of the general manager. His wishes, as he’s repeated to both U.S. and Venezuelan media, are to put the issue behind him and move forward.

“I just want to thank the fans for your prayers and your support,” Ramos said, flashing the smile the soft-spoken catcher showed frequently during his rookie season. “I’m happy to be here, and I’m happy to be with my family. See you in spring training.”

“It’s really a special day for us,” Rizzo said. “Reuniting Wilson Ramos with the people of Washington, D.C. As you know, it was a traumatic experience last week with Wilson. … This, we think, puts an exclamation point and a finality to the incident.”

The examination Ramos underwent Friday was a “combination” of both physical and mental tests, Rizzo said, likening it to the ones players receive at the start of spring training, but the doctors assured everyone that Ramos is in top shape. He will begin to play for his Venezuelan Winter League team, the Tigres de Aragua, on Tuesday — a prospect Rizzo said the Nationals “had no second thoughts about.”

“He plays in his country for his country because he’s very prideful of his country and loves where he lives,” Rizzo said. “He plays in front of his family. We can’t ask him not to do that. We have put into place things that we believe will keep him safe and sound and happy and healthy there. We feel that when we do that we’ll feel comfortable with him being there.”

Moving forward is a process, though, and it will take everyone some time to do it. Rizzo said the events of last week “engulfed” him and even at the General Manager’s meetings this past week in Milwaukee, Ramos was still foremost in his mind as he received an outpouring of concern from GMs around the game. That support also helped to begin a dialogue among those GMs about how to keep something like this from happening again.

“It was really incredible,” Rizzo said. “There wasn’t one guy who came up to me and didn’t ask about Wilson and didn’t applaud the way it was handled by MLB and the Venezuelans — and really jump-started a discussion between the GMs about ‘What can we do about this?’

“It kind of hits home that this stuff can be taken away from you in a second and ‘Have we done all we can in that regard to keep this from happening?’ It did jump-start some dialogue and some discussions, and we discussed it even in the formal GM setting about ‘We need to come up with a plan to alleviate this altogether.’ “

For now, though, the Nationals will transition their way back to talking about baseball — working on acquiring the center fielder and starting pitcher they so desire — and Ramos will attempt to get his mind and his focus back on the field as well. He will have security in Venezuela now, even after he and his family move into a new house he bought in a more affluent section of Venezuela, and Rizzo said that the Nationals would also help to ensure the safety of his family after Ramos has returned to the U.S. to begin playing in 2012.

“We’re going to have things in place for that,” Rizzo said, declining to go into specifics due to the nature of the issue and for security purposes. “We have a plan for his family when he’s in the states and his family is in Venezuela and also for when he’s in Venezuela.”

At 12:30 p.m. Ramos zipped up his blue hooded sweatshirt, turned back to smile and wave to a crowd of reporters and exited the Nationals’ clubhouse through a back door, leaving behind the chilly late fall air that had descended on Washington and heading back home to Venezuela after a brief stop in Florida.

“It definitely [brings some closure to the situation],” Rizzo said. “That’s one of the big reasons why we came here. Like any other family member, when you go through a traumatic experience, I wanted to see him, I wanted to hug him — I wanted to make sure he was happy and healthy, and it does put a finality to it for us. Now we can move on to baseball, and this is the last we’re going to speak of it.”

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