Wilson Ramos’s biggest offseason goal is to tackle a lingering fear that he still wrestles with every day now. Every time he runs, the Nationals catcher is scared he will hurt himself again. Until this season, he had never felt this way. Until this April, he hadn’t hurt his hamstring. Until this May, he had never strained his leg muscle so badly that he needed to miss a month and a half of the season. He wants to erase all of those doubts.
“I want to be able to run hard and have my legs respond and not have the fear,” Ramos said recently in Spanish. “When I run hard now, I’m scared of getting hurt. Before, when I ran, I didn’t have that fear. I want to run as hard as possible. I’m going to work hard on that.”
When he is on the field, the Nationals are a different team, a better one. They are 46-29 in games he has started and 38-46 in games in which he doesn’t. He is a strong game caller; the pitching staff has a 3.30 ERA with him behind the plate, better than the other Nationals’ catchers. He is strong and has shown glimpses that he can carry a heavy load; he caught 23 straight games, the longest streak in baseball this season, which was fueled by a changed diet that included arepas. He has helped lift the Nationals’ offense since his return on July 4. He is hitting .275/.308/.468 in 76 games with 15 home runs and 56 RBI. He has homered every 18.7 at-bats, which would rank 16th best in the baseball.
But Ramos is sick of injuries. He played only 25 games in 2012 because of a badly injured right knee. This season, he has played in 76 games, and recently proven he can handle playing every day. But other than his 2011 season, he has yet to play every day from beginning of the season to the end. He has played in only 101 of a possible 321 games since the start of 2012.
“I want to be ready for an entire season,” he said.
But where will Ramos train? Will the 26-year-old stay in Washington as he did last winter while diligently rehabbing from knee surgery and got into perhaps the best shape of his life? Or will Ramos go home to Venezuela, where he was kidnapped in 2011 but where his family still resides?
Out of safety, Ramos is understandably mum on the details. Bench coach Randy Knorr, who coaches the catchers, has lobbied for Ramos to stay in Washington so that he can stay in a workout routine and remain focused. Ramos, in fact, has decided he wants to go home. He just doesn’t share that openly because of his own safety concerns and that of his family.
Until last offseason, Ramos has played in the Venezuelan winter league. He would still like to now but doesn’t want to risk injury. He wants to dedicate his offseason to working out and spending time with his family, which he misses. He will still spend some time in Washington.
“It’s not that I don’t want to play [in the Venezuelan winter league], but everything that has happened with injuries, I need to work on my body,” he said. “I really do want to play in Venezuela. I have experience there. I like playing there. But I can miss a year there and recover and work hard on my legs and make sure I maintain it here.”
While rehabbing from a torn MCL and damaged ACL last winter, Ramos remained in Washington. He had physical therapy appointments to attend and he used the facilities at Nationals Park. He went home to Venezuela for a brief visit, but spent the majority of the time in Washington. He feared there weren’t enough proper resources in his native country to rehab and train like he needed to.
This winter, he has different hopes. He has hired a personal trainer who has worked with a Venezuelan baseball team and also helped his younger brother, David, who is a Nationals farm hard, during his rehab from a foot injury.
“In the past, I didn’t have the right people to help me do that training,” Ramos said. “Now, I know someone that will be with me daily and will help me. He’ll do the same with me as if I was here but I’ll be there and with my family. It’ll be more comfortable for me being near my family. I’m not doing it for any other reason.”
Ramos’ long-term hope is that he can move his family to the U.S. When they visit him during the season, he can manage bringing over a family member or so at a time. After his 2011 kidnapping and eventual rescue, Ramos’s family moved from his hometown of Valencia to a safer location that they hold secret. His family supported him during his struggles with injuries and he wants the support system around him in the future.
“It’s complicated to bring everyone here,” Ramos said. “It’s hard. … But it’s not the right time or opportunity for me to bring them all here. It’s a goal to bring them all here in the future and be with me here.”