Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos suffered a knee injury that would require… (Joe Robbins/GETTY IMAGES )
For a month after he severely injured his right knee last May, Wilson Ramos held out hope that the damage wasn’t so serious. The Washington Nationals catcher prayed he could return to the field later in the season. The swelling had subsided, he said, and he was walking around with little pain and only a slight limp.
A visit to Richard Steadman, a renowned knee surgeon, in Vail, Colo., in June dashed Ramos’s optimism. With his agent, Gustavo Marcano, at his side, Ramos learned that the injury would require not one but two surgeries and he would, without a doubt, miss the rest of the season.
The normally cheery Ramos, 25, was crushed. He was, in his own words, depressed. But he composed himself and called his mother in Venezuela, uttering words that now sound prophetic. “ ‘Mama, don’t worry,’ ” she recalls he said. “ ‘I’m strong. I’ll get past this. We’ve gotten past worst things and I’ll overcome this and we’ll get ahead.’ ”
If anyone deserves good luck this season, it’s Ramos. Over the past 16 months, he endured a kidnapping at gunpoint at his family’s home in the north-central Venezuelan city of Valencia on Nov. 9, 2011. Six months after that harrowing episode, he damaged the anterior cruciate ligament and tore the meniscus in his right knee when it buckled as he chased a passed ball in the seventh inning of a May 12 game in Cincinnati.
Ramos finds happiness and comfort crouched behind home plate, but for nine months he was deprived that opportunity as the Nationals enjoyed a historic season and a division title. He endured a long, arduous and lonely road to recovery. There are no more important joints for a catcher than his knees, and the Nationals feared his return might come more slowly than expected.
This spring, however, the Nationals have had to restrain Ramos. He dives after balls in the dirt behind the plate. He legs out infield hits. He slides on his surgically repaired knee with no pain. He is thinner than past seasons. He is already starting at his position and wants more. He wants to play opening day and in the playoffs. He will catch his first nine-inning game this week. He is past the physical and mental hurdles. Beaten down by a trying year and a half, Ramos has come back stronger than before.
“I’ve always said things in this life happen for a reason,” he said. “I’ve always seen them as tests that God gives us each on our path. And I’ve been strong and I’ve done my best to overcome all those bad things. Good things will come and I’m getting ready to receive them.”
The happiest moment of spring training for Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo was when Ramos strode to the plate at Space Coast Stadium against the St. Louis Cardinals on March 3, his first game taking at-bats since his injury, and crushed a double to deep right field that the wind kept in the stadium but helped win a game.
“I’m so proud of him,” Rizzo said.
Serious approach to rehab
Last June, Steadman repaired Ramos’s meniscus but needed to perform another surgery a month later because the knee damage was so severe. Marcano, his agent at SFX Baseball Group, accompanied Ramos. Unlike previously explained, the second surgery didn’t replace his ACL but cleaned it up. The Nationals were unsure, then, how Ramos’s knee would hold up without a ligament reconstruction.
“He’s done everything and more than a lot of the other catchers,” Manager Davey Johnson said.
Ramos stayed in Washington to rehab instead of returning to Venezuela — a sign, Rizzo said, that showed the catcher was serious about his rehab. He stayed in his apartment near Nationals Park and visited his physical therapist in Northern Virginia three times a week. He worked out at the stadium and leaned on the team’s training staff.
“That was a good decision to stay here with people that know a lot about rehab,” he said. “In Venezuela, I don’t know people that are experts in it and I preferred to stay here and focus on my health.”
Near the end of the season, Ramos would work out at Nationals Park in the mornings and chat with teammates in the clubhouse. He stayed to watch some games but more often than not he couldn’t stand watching and not playing. He celebrated with the Nationals after they clinched the National League East title, sitting in a shopping cart being pushed by teammates, but that, too, was emotionally painful. He accompanied them to St. Louis for the playoffs. “It was hard seeing everyone on the team giving their all and I couldn’t do it, too,” he said.
Ramos returned to Venezuela for only a month during his nine-month rehab, to spend Christmas with his family. He took along a workout schedule for December, working out at the gym of a friend, Omar Daal, a former major league pitcher. He took care of the baseball academy he founded in Guacara for young players who, like him, didn’t have the resources to train and practice.