Ex-Twins catcher Ramos puts kidnap ordeal behind him

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 1, 2012 - 7:01 AM

The former Twins catcher has turned the page after surviving his November kidnapping in Venezuela.

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Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos has only one homer this season after hitting 15 a year ago, but his on-base percentage has improved.

Photo: Evan Vucci, Associated Press

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LOS ANGELES - The visiting clubhouse at Dodger Stadium is 50 years old, just like the stadium itself, with a narrow locker area that has few of the creature comforts modern major leaguers take for granted.

On Saturday afternoon, former Twins catcher Wilson Ramos sauntered in wearing his red and blue Washington Nationals gear and a big smile, as he eyed all the reporters crammed into the small room to chronicle Bryce Harper's major league debut.

"I feel happy here," Ramos said. "These guys gave me an opportunity to play every day, and we've got a young team with a lot of talent. It's exciting."

By night's end, it was easy to see why Ramos is having such a good time. Twenty-one months after getting traded to Washington in the deal that sent closer Matt Capps to the Twins, Ramos has been through one hellish ordeal -- surviving a kidnapping last November in Venezuela -- and landed in baseball heaven.

He catches a piching staff, led by Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmerman, that entered Monday leading the majors in ERA (2.33) and fastball velocity (93.1 miles per hour) according to FanGraphs.com. The Twins, for comparison, were last in ERA (5.69) and 26th in fastball velocity (90.5 mph).

The Nationals and Dodgers entered Saturday tied for the National League's best record, at 14-6. That night, a sellout crowd of 54,242 filled Chavez Ravine with boos every time the 19-year-old Harper came to bat and oohs every time Strasburg fired a 100-mph fastball into Ramos' mitt.

The Dodgers won three close games to sweep the series, humbling the Nationals a little, as they return home to play Arizona on Tuesday. Ramos, 24, finished April batting .264 with one homer and seven RBI. Last year, when he finished fourth in the National League Rookie of the Year voting, he hit for more power, belting 15 home runs. However, his on-base percentage is .355 this year, up from .334 in 2011.

The Twins signed Ramos out of Venezuela in 2004 and watched him blossom into one of the game's best catching prospects. They traded him four months after signing Joe Mauer to an eight-year, $184 million contract extension, and those moves looked especially short-sighted last year, when injuries limited Mauer to 47 starts behind the plate.

Mauer has come back strong this year, but Capps entered Monday with a 5.63 ERA. Ramos said he hasn't paid much attention to the criticism the Twins have taken over the trade.

"It's not my decision, it's not [Capps'] decision," Ramos said. "But you know, that happens in baseball. It's not where we start, it's where we finish. So, I just want to say thank you to the Twins."

Former Twins General Manager Bill Smith reached out to the Nationals again last November, offering whatever help he could bring after Ramos was kidnapped at gunpoint from his family's home in Valencia, Valenzuela. After a 51-hour search, authorities saved Ramos in a dramatic rescue.

The ordeal endeared Ramos to Washington fans even more. At the Nats' home opener on April 11, he received a huge ovation when his name was called during introductions.

"I'm pretty good now [mentally]," Ramos said. "I just try to turn the page. I try to forget everything. I just want to concentrate and keep my mind on baseball."

That's easier to do when you're playing for baseball's surprise team, catching the most dynamic pitching staff in the game.

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