Ex-big leaguer shares new views on life

Ex-big leaguer shares new views on life

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- When it became evident that someone who actually played in the Major Leagues was a participant in the 20th annual Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture that ended Friday at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Mario Ramos was asked numerous questions from the scholars during the three-day event about his experiences.

Ramos, a former pitcher who played professionally for eight seasons and started three games for the Texas Rangers five years ago, was amused by the attention a first-year participant drew from people whose academic achievements he believed dwarfed his accomplishments as a ballplayer.

"I was asked often who are the most memorable characters I met," Ramos said. "Honestly, I met some in the past three days. I'm not a player any more. That always intrigued me, the level of interest in my sport. I'm humbled to be up here and have these great minds out there listening to me."

Ramos, 30, was part of a presentation by Oren Renick, professor of health administration at Texas State University, about the transition of a former player into the world away from baseball. From all aspects, it appears that Ramos, a married father of two boys who is now a teacher and baseball coach, has made the adjustment successfully.

"I know who I am," he said, "I'm a dad. I like hanging out with my kids. That has really helped with this transition. I try to appreciate the opportunity to be with my kids."

Ramos was a familiar face at many presentations throughout the Symposium and actively participated in several question-and-answer sessions. His presentation with Renick was mostly a Q&A session, as well, in which Ramos shared moments of pleasure and disappointment enhanced by first-hand knowledge of the life so many followers of the game have had contained only in their dreams.

"It was everything I thought it was going to be and what I wanted it to be," Ramos said about his brief period in the Major Leagues. "It's not like anything you can imagine. It's like a fantasy. It's almost as if I was walking through these halls and they came to life. I was next to stars like Alex Rodriguez and Rafael Palmeiro. It was fantastic."

Ramos, a left-hander from Pflugerville, Texas, near Austin, was an All-American at Rice University and a sixth-round First-Year Player Draft selection of the Oakland Athletics in 1999. He signed with the A's and moved fairly quickly through the system. He was the A's Minor League Player of the Year in 2001 but the next year was dealt to Texas in a six-player trade that sent first baseman Carlos Pena to Oakland. The transition from college to pro ball was the most illuminating to Ramos.

"It changed immediately after college when your teammates become your biggest competition," he said. "Not so much in [Class] A ball, but when you get closer to the Major Leagues and you're looking around and your teammates are being called up, it's unfortunate that this happens. In college, you're on a team and all fighting for the same goal. But when you get into pro ball, that atmosphere is no longer there. It becomes more of a job, and you're in daily competition with the guys on your team for advancement."

He happened to be with two of the hot-spot franchises related to alleged performance-enhancing drugs usage as the former teams of admitted juicer Jose Canseco, so it was understandably a question raised at Ramos' presentation.

"I've had practice with this one," he said. "It would not surprise me if more than 50 percent of the players I played with at some point in their careers used steroids. That's not to say that more than 50 percent of the players used. I would just not be surprised if they did. If I had to estimate, I would say between 30 and 40 percent of the people I played with used steroids.

"If a guy told me did it, I believed him. Someone would say, 'Yeah, I was on the good stuff. I took Vitamin S.' The casual nature in which it was discussed led me to believe that it was not viewed as a detrimental thing to do in their career. There was a perception that steroids were not really going to hurt you, that they could only help. It was viewed as a safe drug for people out of baseball who needed it for their health. In that climate, yes, players were going to do steroids."

Ramos said that he never took steroids, a claim supported by his slender frame (5 feet 11, 170 pounds).

"I was not tempted, and I probably should have been," he said. "I realized rather quickly how close I was as a Minor League player to the Majors. I mean, if you dressed up 50 pitchers and 50 position players and put them in the same game, you wouldn't pick out the Major Leaguers from the Minor Leaguers. As soon as you realize how close you are, boy, that last little edge that makes you a big leaguer is right there. You would try almost anything once you got that close. But I'm a pretty straight-laced kind of person, and I just didn't think it was right."

Ramos' advancement to the Majors came in 2003 with the Rangers. He was 1-1 with a 6.13 ERA in his three starts totaling 13 innings in which he allowed 11 hits with 13 walks and eight strikeouts. After the third start, then-Texas manager Buck Showalter broke the news that Ramos was going back to the Minors.

"I told him that I thought I could pitch at this level and that I would be back, but it didn't happen," Ramos said. "I ran out of time and opportunity. I got a lot of opportunities. I was mainly a starter, but two years ago I tried to drop down sidearm thinking I might make it as a reliever with San Diego, but I broke a rib doing it from the motion."

Ramos eventually cut the cord and returned home to start a new life. There is no trace of bitterness in him. The game that was once his occupation remains in his heart, and Ramos is passing on the joy he derived from it to his sons. Every so often, however, he remembers that there used to be a ballplayer right here.

"For the first few days I was here, I knew we were going to make a presentation Friday, and I was going about things nice and easy," Ramos said. "Then on Thursday, I started thinking about what I was going to do on Friday and that I had to make sure I ate right and that I better get to bed early. Then I thought it doesn't matter what I do because I'm not pitching on Friday. I'm going to be talking to people. I wasn't really sad, but it was a reminder that I'm not a pitcher anymore. I'm something else."

Jack O'Connell is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.