VIERA, Fla. — The words are Spanish. Black cursive, flanked by tufts of cerulean blue ink. They blanket the immense left forearm of Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos. His favorite Bible verse, Philippians 4:13, now tattooed there as a permanent reminder of the day his life began anew.
I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me, 4:13, 11-11-11
November 11, 2011: the day Venezuelan police rescued Ramos after more than 48 harrowing hours in captivity as the victim of a kidnapping.
On this day, a perfect February afternoon where bright sun and a light breeze welcomed the Nationals' pitchers and catchers to their first official workout of the year, Ramos proudly displays his new addition.
"I put everything in Jesus because he's got my back," he told a group of reporters, translating the passage in his own words, preferring not to talk directly about the events that inspired it but conveying how lucky he feels to be here.
Here, catching a bullpen session for Stephen Strasburg, laughing and joking with his fellow catchers as they go through drills and take batting practice. Here, preparing for a 2012 season that carries big expectations, considering the many other unthinkable outcomes that his ordeal could have produced.
When fellow Nationals catcher and countryman Jesus Flores and Ramos saw one another for the first time this winter after Ramos was freed, the two friends shared an embrace - and a few tears. Flores, who's had a bodyguard in Venezuela since a carjacking at gunpoint a few years ago, knows first-hand how emotional the situation was.
What Ramos would like most now, is for it not to be that way anymore.
"I feel like I am living again," Ramos said from the dugout at Space Coast Stadium. "I got new life."
Twenty days ago, Ramos arrived in Miami, leaving behind his new house - seven bedrooms, five bathrooms with a big yard and a large garage - that hosts his entire family in Valencia. He left the bodyguards who had been with him since the kidnapping and readied for his sophomore season in the major leagues.
But inside the Nationals' clubhouse, when he checked in Sunday, nothing changed. Teammates may have hugged him a little tighter when he arrived or smiled a little wider when they saw his burly frame ambling toward them, but before no time they were calling him "a big buffalo" again and tossing friendly trash talk his way. "How was your winter?" one coach joked with him as he passed him in the hall. "Anything going on?"
"We're happy to see him back," said closer Drew Storen. "It's one of those things that's tough to wrap your head around, but it's good to see him. His spirits are up."
Said Nationals manager Davey Johnson: "He's in a good frame of mind. Obviously, we were all scared to death, but I'm not one who deals too much in the past. I deal in the present. As far as I'm concerned, it's history, and he dealt with it. It ended with a happy ending, and let's move on."
Johnson was more impressed by Ramos' adjustments at the plate. He shortened his stroke to the ball, just as the manager asked him to do at the end last season. He can thank Ramos' playing time in Venezuelan Winter League for that and for helping the catcher to move on, mentally.
"I played there because I was trying to put my mind on baseball," Ramos said, recalling his debut where fans gave him a raucous standing ovation before his first at-bat. "If I stayed in my house, I was thinking too much. I played baseball because I was trying to clear my mind."
The Tigres de Aragua won the league championship, buoyed down the stretch unfortunately by another tragedy: the death of teammate and former Texas Rangers pitcher Rosman Garcia in a late-December car accident. They finished the season strong, and Ramos, who hit .281 with a .378 on-base percentage in 19 playoff games, was no exception. Finally, he was relaxed, not thinking as much, he said, as he was when he hit .218 during the regular season.
One more step on his road back to normalcy.
With the starting catching role thrust fully onto this shoulders this season, starting opening day — both in Chicago on April 5 and in Washington on April 12 — could be another step.
"If the team gives me that opportunity I will be very, very excited to catch that game," he said. "Hopefully, the fans will stand up, clap their hands and say good words for me. I want to hear that."
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