Wilson Ramos plopped down on a brown leather couch Friday afternoon in the Washington Nationals’ clubhouse, a spotlight shining behind him on the nameplate affixed to his locker, from which two of his No. 3 jerseys hung. Reporters, photographers and television cameras faced him. This, Ramos hoped, would be the final act in a horrific ordeal he has resolved will not change him.
Ramos returned to Washington nine days after he was kidnapped at gunpoint in front of his home in Venezuela, one week after a dramatic rescue. The Nationals wanted their doctors to evaluate Ramos, physically and mentally. Ramos wanted to let people who supported him through the tribulation see him safe and happy. The team and Ramos wanted the public appearance to give the 24-year-old catcher closure.
“I just want to say thanks to the fans, for your prayers and your support,” Ramos said in his only comments Friday. “I’m happy to be here. I’m happy to be with my family. See you in spring training.”
Ramos arrived in Washington from Venezuela on Thursday night, and he planned to travel back to his home country Friday night. Ramos will rejoin the Aragua Tigers, the Venezuelan winter league team he practiced with the past few days, and he intends to start playing in games Tuesday.
Friday morning, Ramos walked through the third floor at Nationals Park, the executive offices, and into General Manager Mike Rizzo’s office. He hugged Rizzo and several other front-office members.
“It’s good to see him face-to-face, see the smile on his face, grab hold of him and see that he’s in good shape,” Rizzo said. “He’s in a good mind-set. He’s happy, smiling and relieved.
“I think it’s more real now that you see him. It kind of pushes all the stuff that you imagined could have been happening to the back. Whatever did happen, you see the finished product. He’s okay, and he’s happy.”
In the morning, Ramos visited with team doctors, who found him in “terrific shape,” Rizzo said. At a brief news conference, Ramos sat comfortably on a couch next to Rizzo, smiling but reserved. Both men wanted to use the media event as a way to push the 51 hours Ramos spent in captivity behind them.
“This, we think, puts an exclamation point and a finality to the incident,” Rizzo said. “We’re not going to dwell on that. We’re not going to talk about that anymore from this day forward. It was a harrowing experience, and we’re glad it’s in our past.”
Rizzo’s voice shook once, as he recalled the moment he learned last week that Ramos had been rescued.
“I get emotional when I talk about it now,” Rizzo said. “He’s one of our own. He is a family member. When things are that dangerous, it goes way beyond baseball.”
The feeling extended beyond the Nationals’ organization and to their fan base. Last week, on the evening of Ramos’s rescue, about 40 fans gathered for a candlelight vigil outside the center field gate. They brought signs, some of which Nationals employees received afterward.
Those signs sat Friday in a box inside clubhouse manager Mike Wallace’s office in the Nationals’ clubhouse. At Ramos’s request, the Nationals will ship the signs to Ramos’s agent, Gustavo Mercano, in Venezuela.
When Ramos returns to Venezuela, the Nationals and Major League Baseball will provide extra security measures for him and his family. The Nationals recommended that their two American players in Venezuela, minor league pitchers Ryan Tatusko and Josh Wilkie, return home. Both, though, said they felt safe and stayed. But Rizzo did not ask Ramos to stay in the United States, leaving the decision to him and his family.
“I had no second thoughts,” Rizzo said. “He plays in his country, for his country. He’s very prideful in his country and loves where he lives. He plays in front of his family. We can’t ask him not to do that.”
After Ramos and Rizzo finished speaking to cameras, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and rookie Steve Lombardozzi lingered around the clubhouse, taking a short break from their weightlifting session. Lombardozzi embraced him first. Then Zimmerman gave Ramos a hug and rubbed his head, and both players smiled.
“Good to have him back,” Zimmerman said.
Nationals notes: On the deadline to prevent minor leaguers from being lost via the Rule 5 draft, the Nationals added five players to their 40-man roster, including highly regarded catching prospect Derek Norris and slugging first baseman Tyler Moore, the 2010 Nationals minor league player of the year.
The Nationals also added speedy outfielder Eury Perez and catcher Jhonatan Solano to the 40-man roster from within their minor league system. They also reclaimed reliever Cole Kimball from the Blue Jays two days after Toronto claimed him. The moves give them 37 players on the roster.