- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Each day, roughly 45 minutes before the first pitch, Wilson Ramos makes his way into the Washington Nationals’ dugout. On days he starts, the rookie catcher spends a few minutes getting his gear on before heading to the bullpen to warm up that day’s starting pitcher.

Since last Friday, he’s come out, smiled, and waved to the group of women beaming with pride in Section 119, just to the left of home plate. Then, for Maria Campos, the tears come.

They’ll come again when Ramos steps to the plate and gets a hit — something he’s done in each game of the Nationals’ homestand and the five before that. And they’ll really begin to flow if and when Ramos hits a home run. When Ramos would homer in Venezuela, Campos would have to be restrained by friends and family from running on the field to greet her son at home plate — tears, of course, streaming down her face.

“Muy emocionado,” Campos, Ramos’ mother, says, waving to her son in the dugout, gazing around at the major league stadium that surrounds her. She’s an emotional woman, and while it’s been seven years since Ramos left Valencia, Venezuela, signing with the Minnesota Twins in 2004, it’s the first time she’s seen her son play in the U.S. She’s here for the current homestand with daughter Milanyela Ramos.

“For them,” said Marfa Mata, a family friend who helped serve as a translator, “each home run, the feelings are like the first home run of his career.”

In Campos’ mind, she’s still watching her baby boy. The one who scouts didn’t sniff at as a prospect until he was almost 17 and was always stuck behind someone else at catcher on Venezuela’s national teams. The one who worked at any odd job he could find to help make money for his family and fund his baseball ambitions.

The one who, at 23 years old and the second oldest of Campos’ five children, has been the man of the household long enough to know that his success in the big leagues is not just about him.

“My mother, she works so hard,” Ramos said, smiling as he talks about his 12-year-old brother, also a catcher, his older brother and his fiancee, who also all live in Campos’ home in Valencia.

“I’ll help them,” Ramos said. “I don’t want my mother to be working so hard anymore.”

Each day this homestand, Ramos has come into the Nationals clubhouse bearing gifts: arepas, a cheese-filled pastry, for fellow Venezuelan Jesus Flores, for Alex Cora, for Livan Hernandez - whoever asks. Mata has been cooking up a storm while Maria and Milanyela explore Washington. Asked about their impressions of D.C., they are effusive: “magnifico,” and “muy, muy bellisimo.”

The visa process was arduous, but in August, Maria and Milanyela, along with Ramos’ father, Abraham Ramos, secured 10-year visas. Now they can come and go as they please.

Abraham is expected to visit during spring training, unable to get the time off now from his job as a factory supervisor at Polar, a Venezuelan food and beer conglomerate. Having his mother and sister around, though, is enough for Ramos.

“It’s dream come true,” Campos said through Mata, who also can be credited with helping Ramos learn English, buying him dictionaries and books of synonyms and antonyms when he was in Single-A with the Twins.

“She’s really sentimental,” Mata said. “Here he was, a kid, and right now he’s a big, huge man. For her, it’s amazing.”

The pride begins to well in Campos’ eyes as she thinks about the journey that got them both to this point, about the son who took over for a father who left them early in their lives together.

But Milanyela smiles and talks excitedly in Spanish about her successful older brother. One of her other brothers, Natanael, 18, is a catcher in the New York Mets organization and played in the Dominican Summer League. But it’s clear where her loyalties lie. Around her neck hangs a small, red, white and blue curly ‘W’ for the Washington Nationals. When Milanyela, 21, went in for her visa interview, the agent asked her who she was and why she wanted to come to America.

“I’m Wilson Ramos’ sister,” she began to explain. There was no need to go further. The agent was from Washington - and just happened to be a big fan of the Nationals’ catcher.

As Ramos navigates the final month of the season, his batting average has climbed back to .261, he’s hit 12 homers and has been on a tear since Aug. 1, hitting .294 and slugging .482. As his mother’s dreams continue to come true, hopes continue to rise for Nationals fans everywhere about their young catcher.

“I never thought that he would ever be a major league player and that I’d be with him in a major league stadium,” Campos said. “It’s amazing.”

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