Early this season, as his hard work and continued development convinced the Washington Nationals that he needed to get the majority of playing time behind the plate in spite of the presence of future Hall of Fame catcher Pudge Rodriguez on the Nats' roster, Wilson Ramos spoke about getting the opportunity to be the Nationals' no.1 catcher. The then-23-year-old Valencia, Carabobo, Venezuela-born backstop, who turned 24 in August, said in early April that he was happy with the trade which had brought the highly-regarded Twins' prospect to the nation's capital from Minnesota in a deal for reliever Matt Capps the previously July.
"I was working hard there," Ramos said, "I was waiting for my opportunity. But, you know [Joe] Mauer (who signed an 8-year extension with Minnesota) is a very, very good player and when he signed a big contract, I thought, 'I need to play for another team, because it's hard to play every day here.' So when this team traded for me, I was excited, I'm excited right now to play this season." In Washington, Ramos found himself playing alongside, learning from and ultimately supplanting Pudge Rodriguez, his favorite player when he was growing up.
"I'm very lucky to work with [Mauer and Pudge]," Ramos said, "I learned a lot with Joe. Now working with Pudge [I've learned] about my defense, calling the game, so I'm very, very excited to work with him." When the season started, it was clear that the twenty-three year-old catcher was ready. Witth some caution, then-Nats' skipper Jim Riggleman announced that Ramos would get the bulk of the time behind the plate.
"We're going to move towards [Ramos being no.1]," Riggleman told reporters, "but we don't want to count our chickens too early here. We still have to play Ramos, we just can't assume that he's going to go out there and overwhelm the league or something." Ramos just wanted an opportunity to show what he could do.
""[Pudge] wants to play more years in the big leagues, he told me already, but you know, I'm ready to play every day," a quietly confident Ramos said, "... so I was waiting for my chance. If this team gives me a chance to play every day, I will play every day, I will play hard. Pudge is a great player, but [the team] has to make a decision who plays every day. It's not my decision. It's not his decision. It's the front office's decision. I'll play hard and see what happens."
Given the opportunity, Ramos responded with a strong rookie campaign in which he hit 22 doubles, 15 HR's and posted a .267/.334/.445 slash in 113 games and 435 plate appearances, .with 993 fld%, 32% CS % behind the plate and a +3.1 WAR overall, the second-highest WAR among rookies in the majors behind only Nats' 2B Danny Espinosa. Ramos returned to Venezuela this winter with the intention of playing for the Tigres de Aragua in the Liga Venezuela Beisbol Profesional. "I'm sure if I'm the team in Venezuela, I'd want [Ramos] to play," Davey Johnson, who took over for Riggleman as the Nats' manager in late June, said when asked about the Nats' young catcher playing this winter after a long rookie campaign, "But that's going to be entirely up to what he thinks he needs to stay in shape over the winter and be ready for next spring."
Ramos told reporters then that he planned to play in the VWL to work on his swing, something Johnson talked to the catcher about late this season. "I talked to him a little bit about his swing," Johnson said, "I thought he [has] just a little tendency to sometimes be a little too much upper cut. But he's worked on it a little bit here and I like his progress. I like where he's at, he's getting right to where he needs to be, fine-tuning it might [not] be a bad idea." As Ramos prepared to start playing games this week, however, he was kidnapped at gunpoint from his family's home in Venezuela and held for over fifty hours before a rescue operation freed him late last night.
The kidnappers, three or four of them, (four were arrested) who had apparently been staking out the home for some time, forced Ramos into one SUV and sped away, switched cars at some point and as we know now, drove the 24-year-old Ramos to a remote mountain location ninety minutes from his home where he was held for two days until Venezuelan police forces rescued him after a gunfight with his captors. "'It was very hard for me. It was very hard for my family," Ramos told reporters this morning according to an AP/USA Today report out of Valencia, Venezuela. Ramos described how he'd hid under the bed in the room he was kept in once he heard the gunfire, watiing until he heard police call out to him.
Though he wasn't harmed physically, Ramos told reporters, "'... psychologically I underwent very great harm.'" Not enough to convince him to head back to the U.S. though. Ramos told reporters he still plans to play for the Tigres de Aragua this winter."'As soon as I feel all right, I’m going to start playing," Washington Times' writer Amanda Comak quoted Ramos telling Viva Colorad.com reporter Rafael Rojas after his rescue. Ramos wants to play, he said, "... as a thank you to Venezuela for the support."
As for the support he received in the nation's capital from fans who held a candlelight vigil and followed each and every update throughout the kidnapping, and from fans in baseball stadiums around Venezuela as the drama played out, D.C. GM Mike Rizzo wrote this morning in an official statement from the team that Ramos, "... asked me to thank all who played a role in his rescue, and all those who kept him and his family in their thoughts and prayers. I join Wilson in thanking the many law enforcement officials in Venezuela and investigators with Major League Baseball who worked tirelessly to ensure a positive ending to what has been a frightening ordeal." Wilson Ramos is safe tonight, back with his family and ready to play again.