Jeter: “When you compete, you’re competing to win”
Harold Ramirez literally couldn’t wait any longer to take the field for the first time for the Miami Marlins. He had literally waited his whole life for a day like Saturday to come. He couldn’t possibly just relax for the last hour or so before an evening game in New York.
At about 5:30 p.m. before a 7:10 p.m. start, Ramirez had already outfitted himself in full uniform, ready to make his MLB debut against Jacob deGrom and the New York Mets at Citi Field.
“I put the uniform on,” Ramirez said, “I think, too early.”
It’s hard to blame him, though. With the Marlins, Ramirez is finally getting the chance he feels he has been ready take on for years. After going 1 for 4 against the Mets in his debut Saturday, Ramirez is back starting in left field for the second straight game Tuesday as Miami opens a quick two-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays at 7:10 p.m. at Marlins Park. Miami’s season has so far been defined by offensive ineptitude and Ramirez, a 24-year-old outfielder, has hit at every level he has played at since the Pittsburgh Pirates signed him out of Colombia in 2011.
Only once since 2014, when Ramirez was 19, has he finished a season with a batting average worse than .300. Last season, he spent the entire year with Double A New Hampshire in the Toronto Blue Jays organization with a .320 batting average, yet he never got a crack at Triple A and became a free agent. The Blue Jays still offered Ramirez the largest signing bonus of any team, but he turned them down in favor of the Marlins (10-29) hoping for a more immediate path to the Majors and even declined to use his opt out when he didn’t make the club out of spring training.
In the winter, Ramirez headed to the Venezuelan Professional Baseball League and batted .381 with a .459 on-base percentage and .556 slugging percentage. Already this season, Ramirez hit .355 with a .999 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 120 plate appearances with Triple A New Orleans to finally get his shot last week.
“Sometimes I felt a little bit frustrated because I’d have a good year and I was still down there,” Ramirez said. “That made me feel like I should keep working hard, playing hard, keep doing what I’m doing because I knew if I kept playing hard I would get here.”
Since his teenage years, Ramirez has become a complete hitter, capable of using all fields as a contact hitter. Early in his career, Ramirez said he mostly focused on going the opposite way until pitchers started to adjust and pound the righty inside. He focused on those inside pitches with his hitting coaches, learning how to get inside and keep his opposite-field approach. Manager Don Mattingly believes the rookie’s best power will come to right-center field rather than down the left-field line.
“From what we were able to see in spring training, he’s got a pretty good feel for that barrel. That’s the one thing that he does have, so we’ll see,” Mattingly said. “We’ve seen guys coming up that are tearing up Triple A, it seems to be a different story when they get here and start getting scouting reports and teams start honing in on how to get you out, so it’s best to temper any excitement.”
It was hard for Ramirez to temper his own excitement, although he is taking a measured approach in adjusting to his new reality.
Ramirez saw how pitchers could adjust over years in the minors. In the Majors, pitchers can adjust in a matter of days with the proliferation of video. He has to learn how to adjust quickly, too. He doesn’t want to let this opportunity slip away. When he found out he was getting his chance in Miami, he couldn’t help but let his emotions get the best of him.
“I didn’t say anything,” Ramirez said. “I just started crying.”