There are some ball players who know when the time is right to hang up their cleats, while others want to scratch and claw their way to hopefully get back to the major leagues.
In the case of 30 year old Bridgeport Bluefish Wilkin Ramirez, time isn’t on his side. Despite his age and with his unwillingness to give up as other players have, Ramirez endeavors to stay in the game.
The Dominican Native began playing baseball at six years old, but not in his present position as an outfielder. Ramirez was originally a catcher before moving to other positions all around the diamond. “I played catcher for a little; (I) also played shortstop, the position I was playing when I signed, and was (then) eventually moved to the outfield.” Ramirez signed with the Detroit Tigers as a 16 year old and subsequently grew as a player.
Most young teenagers focus on getting their driver’s license and succeeding in both high school academics and sports. Some lack the level of responsibility and maturity needed to maintain a position in professional baseball. Ramirez saw the opportunity to play as a stepping stone toward a long-desired dream. “ It was great”, said Ramirez. “Coming from a poor country in (the) Dominican, especially my little town, people knew that I became a professional baseball player.”
Ramirez credits his family for helping him to keep a level head and grow into the game. He reciprocated by assisting them with the salary he earned after signing his contract. “My family was poor and with the money it became a better life for them.”
The position move from catcher to shortstop lasted for about four years. He then shifted to outfield at High-A, projecting him into a prime position as a top prospect for the Tigers.
That jump from a big- bodied shortstop to a graceful outfielder helped Ramirez to catapult into the field of top ten prospects in both 2008 and 2010. “When you are a top prospect, you have to work”, said Ramirez. “I tried to work hard every day and do anything that was possible in order to become the best baseball player I could be.”
It also helped that Ramirez, being in the Tigers’ system, had the pleasure of playing alongside Miguel Cabrera, for whom he had nothing but praise. “He’s a special player, all around hitting”, Ramirez said glowingly. “It was a privilege and an honor to be around him and learn from him.”
Ramirez recalled a standout moment with Cabrera at bat during a game. “We were sitting in the dugout and he told me the pitcher was going to throw him a slider outside, change up, then slider where he would hit it right center.” Cabrera then hit the ball to right center like it was nothing. Ramirez’s reaction was one loud. “What?”
Cabrera wasn’t done shocking Ramirez though, because he did it again. “We were playing Tampa and I wasn’t playing that day. He told me, ‘This pitcher is going to throw a sinker in, then another sinker out, and then throw me another change up. I’m going to hit it out.'” Ramirez stood in awe when Cabrera did just that.
Those are memories Ramirez will never forget, especially having talked and played with a future Hall of Fame player. Ramirez would probably agree with many others that Cabrera is one of the smartest hitters to have ever played the game.
With Cabrera’s tutelage and the help he received in adjusting to minor league baseball, Ramirez grew as a player to be in two Futures’ Games. The first game in particular really meant a lot to Ramirez. “ (The) first Futures’ Game was special to me”, said Ramirez. “I was in Double AA having a great year, and with 2008 being the last year at (the old) Yankee Stadium, it was always a dream to play there.”
In 2010 Ramirez had the pleasure of playing with Jeurys Familia. Familia’s dominance as a player was unexpected to Ramirez. “No chance”, said Ramirez. “He was a starter when I faced him in High A and Double AA. He was throwing hard with a good breaking pitch (slider), but I never thought he’d be a closer.” Ramirez’s high opinion of Familia was obvious. The outfielder knew Familia would be a future big leaguer, but he never imagined that Familia would be a closer.
“I’m glad for Familia; he’s a great guy with great stuff and I’m happy for him”
That’s who Ramirez is, a quiet man who will always give credit to current and former teammates. Ramirez offers words of praise given with a broad smile on his face. Wilken is well aware of his age and the level of baseball at which he is now playing, but that does not deter him from believing he may one day return to the major leagues.
“I still feel like I can play”, Ramirez said. “If you’re healthy and a good teammate, you have a shot.”
Ramirez’s positive outlook will contribute to his success on the field this season. Bartolo Colon and others have demonstrated that age is just a number. That gives Ramirez hope. While he is on the other side of thirty, he is healthy, has the passion to be great, and most of all, has the class and attitude that any ball club would love to have in their clubhouse.
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