Ramos Relishing MLB Opportunity|
Ramos made his MLB debut with the Marlins in 2012
July 31, 2013
by Nick Kosmider
DENVER - AJ Ramos is building speed as he winds around the warning track at Coors Field, churning his legs a mile above sea level in the cool, rarefied air of the purple-tinged Rocky Mountains.
He's surrounded by enough stunning imagery to make a postcard jealous.
But for all the breathtaking views around him, Ramos, the former Texas Tech hurler who has blossomed into one of the best rookie relief pitchers in Major League Baseball as a member of the Miami Marlins, is only interested in one scene.
So he pauses his run, grabs a baseball deposited into the outfield grass during batting practice and listens as the chorus of young fans pleads for his attention, if only because they are desperately seeking the wound up ball of yarn and cowhide he's about to toss from his right hand.
Ramos obliges, gently lofting the ball toward a group of youngsters whose allegiances are only bound to the search for the next souvenir. Ramos smiles as he picks back up his trot. For all the excitement the last year has brought as he has broken into the big leagues, it's the game's simplest moments that still leave him thrilled to show up to the ballpark every day.
"You come out here and there are kids looking up to you," Ramos says from the visitors clubhouse at Coors Field, where he recently helped his Marlins win three of four games from the Rockies. "I can remember doing the same thing. If I come to the park and I'm a little tired, I see all the kids out there and it rejuvenates me."
Ramos, 26, still feels close to being one of those kids himself. He still feels like the eager young pitcher at Estacado High, who embraced the Matadors' play-hard, get-dirty style on the way to earning all-state honors and the Texas Tech scholarship that followed.
Ramos still remembers the mantra of his pitching coach Mark Llanas, now the school's head coach.
"He would always say, when you put your uniform on, 'You've got your work clothes on, so now it's time to go to work,'" Ramos says.
Few of his players, Llanas says, have embodied the team's creed more than Ramos, whose first-in, last-to-leave approach consistently rubbed off on teammates.
"It couldn't happen to a better guy," Llanas says. "You want your leaders to be there every day and take charge, and that's what he did. He was there every day. I don't ever remember him missing a day missing practice, missing school. He's on that track now in the pros, so it's great. You could win a lot of games if you had a lot of A.J. Ramoses on the field."
Though Llanas knew Ramos would have to overcome some physical limitations - at 5-foot-10 he's several inches shorter than most pitchers - he was also keenly aware that Ramos possessed the proverbial "it" factor that gave him a chance to succeed at any level.
For his part, Ramos says he still feels close to the weekend lights of Dan Law Field, the complex that has changed as much since Ramos left as the pitcher himself. That is to say he's gone from a starter who hurled a mid-90s fastball by hitters to a reliever who has come to understand that pitching is as much art form as brute science.
"You face guys a lot more (in the big leagues)," Ramos says. "There are a lot more games, and (hitters) have a lot more tape of us. It's never like, `Oh, I got him out with this last time, so it's going to work again. It's all about making adjustments all the time, throughout the whole season."
Ramos has made adjustments to hitters in the majors, to be sure. The right-hander recently reeled off a string of more than 16 innings without surrendering an earned run, and he's become a key fixture in a Marlin's bullpen that has been one of the National League's best since June 1.
During parts of two seasons that he has been in the Majors, Ramos has struck out 71 batters in 64 2/3 innings, an impressive clip of 9.9 strikeouts per nine innings. None were more memorable, of course than the first three.
On Sept. 4, 2012, Ramos arrived in Miami after receiving the call that he had been called up the game's grandest stage. He had dominated in Double AA Jacksonville that season, posting a 1.44 earned-run average in 68 2/3 innings of the Brewers, but he had no idea was to expect when he stepped on a Major League mound for the first time.
"I was really nervous in the pen," Ramos recalls. "You're just wondering what to expect when you get out there."
Luckily, the Milwaukee Brewers had no idea what to expect either. In one of the most sparkling debuts ever for a Marlins relief pitcher, Ramos struck out the heart of the Brewers' lineup - Rickie Weeks, Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez - in order on just 13 pitches. It was the first time in franchise history a pitcher had debuted with such a feat.
"I was out there gliding," Ramos says. "I was trying to control myself. When I was out there, it was like I was (on the mound), then in the dugout just like that. I feel like I blacked out a little bit. It was a really cool feeling. I watched the video later and I was like, `Oh, that's pretty cool.'"
Ramos has become a well-liked figure in the Marlins clubhouse, with veteran reliever Chad Qualls even labeling the rookie "mini-Qualls" for the way he brings an infectious attitude to work every day.
For the former Texas Tech star and Lubbock native, who says he still thinks back to his days as a Red Raider whenever a Texas country song wails through the clubhouse, there isn't really any other way to play.
"I'm here doing what I love," Ramos says. "I'm getting to do what I love, getting to travel. Just everything about this whole experience, I'm just trying to take it in day by day. It's been great so far. I'm just trying to hold onto it for as long as I can, because I know this game is going to go by really quick."