The fact that Wilson Ramos could drive to his physical therapy session in northern Virginia on Friday afternoon without worrying about the safety of himself and family was a relief in itself. A year earlier, it was of the utmost concern in his native Venezuela.
On Nov. 9, 2011, Ramos went from being one the Nationals’ brightest young players to enduring one of the most harrowing episodes imaginable. He became the first known Major League baseball player kidnapped when four men dragged him into a car at gunpoint at his family’s home in Valencia, held him captive for 51 distressing hours, and was freed in a dramatic, hair-raising rescue. This Nov. 9, however, he was at peace, worried only about his surgically repaired right knee. That whirlwind year — in which his family and teammates feared for his life at one point and in which his season ended a month after it began — is in the past.
“The truth is that I’m happy to be out of the situation,” Ramos said in a telephone interview Friday afternoon after his physical therapy session ended. “I know it’s been a year and remembering it, it was a sad moment and I hope to get away from it and forget about it. It’ll be hard to totally forget something like that. But, overall, I’m pretty calm now and worrying totally about my recovery. And I think that’s more important for me, taking care of my knee.”
Speaking with his family Friday, as he does every day, he was reminded of the anniversary of his kidnapping. It was a passing reference, nothing they dwelled on in the conversation. And that is exactly how Ramos, 25, hopes it will stay. He is grateful to be safe now, but he understands the event will always be a part of his life. He just doesn’t want it to define him.
His family moved before the season from Valencia to a safer location that they hold secret, and he has not been back to visit since. It’s not that Ramos won’t ever return to his native country; right now he’s worried primarily about his rehab. And the memories of the incident and the security concerns and kidnapping problems in Venezuela are unsettling. He said he will return to spend time with his family after he is finished with his rehab.
“I think I’m fine here,” he said. “I love my country and being there, but after what happened, it’s hard to think about it and forget about it.”
Ramos’ knee was so damaged after he chased down a passed ball and his spike caught in the grass in Cincinnati on May 12 that he need two surgeries over a month apart to repair a torn meniscus and anterior cruciate ligament. So the rehab, understandably, will be arduously long.
He hasn’t yet started to run, but he can exercise on a stationary bike and do full body workouts with weights. He has dropped 10 pounds from his sturdy 6-foot frame, which his doctor told him will help him rehab quicker, and he hopes to drop more weight soon. He has remained in Washington so that he can visit his physical therapist three times a week, and work out at Nationals Park five times a week.
“I feel pretty strong in that knee,” he said. “I can stretch it out. I’m getting stronger and can see the results. I feel the knees are practically the same.”
Ramos’ rehab program will carry him up to spring training, when pitchers and catchers report in late February. He remains the Nationals’ catcher of the future, but will face competition from Kurt Suzuki, who was the team’s everyday catcher essentially from his acquisition in early August trade through the playoffs.
“I’m going to worry about my recovery right now,” Ramos said, “and when I get to spring training I’ll be ready 100 percent for the season. I’m not worrying about competing with another catcher but about getting ready 100 percent. If I’m not 100 percent, how can I compete.”
A year ago Sunday, heavily armed commandos, anti-kidnapping teams from the national guard and elite officers from the judicial police freed Ramos from a cabin in rugged, mountainous terrain in Venezuela after an exchange of gunfire. At 3 a.m. the next day, he finally reunited with his family with tears, hugs and heartfelt emotion. Those are the memories upon which Ramos would prefer to dwell.
“Much happier,” he said.