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Rays catcher Wilson Ramos makes his return to Nationals Park

Tampa Bay Rays catcher Wilson Ramos waves to the crowd in his first plate appearance in Washington since the 2016 season. (Geoff Burke/USA Today)

The last time Wilson Ramos was on the field at Nationals Park, he was limping out to the mound, then limping off it. He had torn his ACL a week before the 2016 National League Division Series. He was destined for free agency that winter, and the only way he could say goodbye was a ceremonial first pitch.

“Was a little sad for me because that was like, my last ball I throw in this stadium as a Nats player,” Ramos said Tuesday before his old team beat his new one, the Tampa Bay Rays. “But at the same time, it made me feel so great because after the people saying my name, it made me feel so excited, all the fans saying my name. That was a sad moment, but happy moment at the same time.”

When Ramos signed his two-year deal with the Rays before last season, he checked the calendar. He saw the Nationals Park visit in June, and circled it in his mind, if not in actuality. He admitted it was strange to come to this stadium, where he played home games for seven major league seasons and hit 83 home runs.

“I have good memories like no-hitters, 20-strikeout game, walk-off homer, walk-off single, playoff games,” Ramos said. “A lot of good memories.”

As he gave his interviews, a few people around the Rays clubhouse hollered “Willlsonnn,” mimicking — or perhaps, mocking — the chant that fans used to greet Ramos here. They chanted that at him as he warmed up Rays starter Nathan Eovaldi in the bullpen before the game, spurred on by a tribute to Ramos shown on the videoboard. Since he was in the bullpen at the time, Ramos could not soak up the moment like he probably would have wanted. But he did remove his mask and wave to the fans, who cheered him again when he stepped to the plate.

“I was waiting for this moment since last year when I saw the schedule. I was waiting for this year so bad,” Ramos said before the game. “I just want to see the fans today because I love the fans here. Hopefully it will be loud.”

Max Scherzer, Ramos’s old batterymate, the man with whom he worked for two no-hitters and that 20-strikeout game, stayed behind the rubber to give Ramos a chance to acknowledge the crowd. Then he stepped up and got Ramos to ground out to third base. Ramos joked with reporters beforehand that he wasn’t sure knowing how Scherzer thinks would help him much at all, but that he would try to use any knowledge to his advantage. He went 0 for 4, though he avoided becoming one of Scherzer’s 13 strikeouts — the only Rays starter to avoid that fate.

But the moment was more about the past than the present, and Ramos has plenty of past to recall here. He played 578 games with Washington, hit .268 and compiled a .743 OPS. He was an all-star once and won a Silver Slugger.

“When I was here, I had my daughter. She’s now four years old. I have seven-month boy. My daughter grow up in this stadium a little bit and cheer my name every single game,” Ramos said. “That was a great experience for me and my family.”

No one with the Nationals has said so, but Ramos actually feels like a potential fit. With Matt Wieters nursing a hamstring injury — he played catch Tuesday but has no timetable — the Nationals are carrying two relatively inexperienced catchers in Pedro Severino and Spencer Kieboom. Severino filled in for Ramos when he went down two seasons ago, starting playoff games before he had been a regular big league starter. Kieboom got his first major league call-up after Ramos’s injury.

Ramos’s deal expires after this season, and he is once again one of the more productive offensive catchers in baseball. He entered Tuesday’s game hitting .301 with seven homers and an .812 OPS.

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