At 1:09 p.m. Monday, Stephen Strasburg threw the first pitch of the Washington Nationals 2013 season.
The best thing about that pitch wasn’t that it was a strike, or that it signaled the start of a much-anticipated season for the locals. The best thing was it landed with a sweet thud in the mitt of Wilson Ramos.
Strasburg and fellow No. 1-overall draft pick Bryce Harper were the unquestioned stars of the day. Strasburg threw seven efficient innings, retiring 19 in a row at one point. Harper hit a home run in his first at-bat. He hit a home run in his second at-bat. Those were the only runs for either team.
While his day didn’t stand out for such awesomeness, Ramos‘ appearance behind the plate was special for a different reason — the mere fact that he was there and playing.
“This is what I have been working for, to be ready for Opening Day,” Ramos said.
If ever there’s a person who could use some good fortune, it is Ramos. Saying he had a difficult stretch doesn’t do justice to what the young Venezuelan went through.
On Nov. 9, 2011, he was kidnapped in front of his home. Fortunately, he was rescued two days later. Such an experience is harrowing and full of fear for the victim and family.
Six months and a day after being rescued, Ramos tore up his right knee in a game at Cincinnati. His 2012 season was finished. Catching is a position that puts a ton of strain on the knees. Being ready to start 2013 was not a certainty.
Yet there he was, catching nine innings and contributing a base hit to a Nats offense that was pretty comatose other than Harper’s blasts.
“I feel great,” said Ramos, 25, his repaired knee covered with an ice pack. “Nothing hurts, no issues.”
Manager Davey Johnson’s decision to start Ramos in the opener as what he called a “carrot” for Ramos‘ hard work was a terrific gesture. No disrespect to Kurt Suzuki, who showed his mettle as a No. 1 catcher after the Nats acquired him from Oakland last August. The two will rotate, Johnson said. We’ll see how that plays out as the season progresses.
But there is no mistaking Ramos‘ importance to the Nationals’ future.
He didn’t arrive with the fanfare of Strasburg and Harper. The Nats acquired him from the Twins organization in 2010 in a trade-deadline deal for relief pitcher Matt Capps. Ramos was seen as one of the top catching prospects in baseball and soon showed why.
During his rookie season of 2011, he hit .267 and belted 15 home runs. He was hitting .265 last season when disaster struck in Cincinnati.
In a season that didn’t have many downers, seeing him helped off the field was a very sad moment.