Daniel Webster College pitcher Ariel Ramos swaps desert battles for diamond dreams
His Daniel Webster College baseball teammates all give him his due, a collective nod of approval.
“He’s a stud,” they’ll say of pitcher Ariel Ramos.
Ramos, a 24-year-old Lowell, Mass. native and Greater Lowell Tech alum, just soaks it all in. He knows they appreciate his ability on the mound, but he also knows they respect him greatly for something else – his recent military service in Afghanistan.
Earlier this month, when he was first on the mound for the Eagles in a game in Florida, Ramos struggled a little. DWC head coach J.P. Pyne went out to the mound to try to settle him down.
“He said, ‘I was a little bit jittery, I had
to work through the jitters,’?” Pyne said.
“I laughed. I said ‘How do you go having jitters in a baseball game after what you’ve been through?’?”
Ramos, a junior who says he wants to play baseball professionally some day, has been through a lot. Currently a United States Marine Reserve, his overseas tour with the Marines ended a little over a year ago as he had gotten injured when a land mine exploded near the vehicle in which he was serving as a gunner. He suffered a concussion and now he says the process has begun to award him a Purple Heart.
But his world is totally different now since he’s back in baseball.
“It had been three-and-a-half years,” Ramos said. “But I picked up a glove, picked up a baseball and it feels like I never left.”
Ramos has made the small college rounds. He threw a no-hitter in 2008 for Northern Essex Community College (Haverhill, Mass.) and also played at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston. He wasn’t encouraged by his coaches to pursue the game as a profession, so he looked into a career in law enforcement.
Many state police officers, he found out, had been in the Marines, so he went that route.
He wasn’t sure if he’d be deployed or not. In the Marines his main job stateside was as a small arms/armor technician. But a couple of years ago he was sent over as a machine gunner.
He was right in the middle of all the fighting, all the horrible conditions.
“There was a lot of poverty, totally the opposite of what you see here,” Ramos said. “Kids being abused, following us for food. Asking us for food, just because they’re hungry.”
Ramos was in combat. He fired, and was fired upon. Asked if he knew if he knowingly wounded or killed anyone, he declined a direct answer, but said, “You do know. It’s just one of those things. … I was just there doing a job. Thank God I came back safe.”
But it almost didn’t happen. One day, late in the deployment period, Ramos was at his gunner position on the all-terrain vehicle he was assigned to.
“The vehicle in front, we were going over a dry riverbed,” Ramos said. “The vehicle blew up and all the shrapnel hit our vehicle, and I got sprayed in the face.”
It was toward the end of his eight-month deployment, and he was kept off the firing line after that. But the whole time he was in Afghanistan, Ramos had one feeling: fear.
“Pretty much every day,” he said. “I don’t know. It was a weird feeling, not knowing if you were ever going to come back.”
Ramos has memories that he says will stay private. “There are things that you hold near and dear to your heart,” he said. “But I do remember the kids in the back of the truck. I was always either the first vehicle in the convoy or the last vehicle. Just the kids asking for food because they’re hungry or dirty.”
Ramos said at times he had to question why he was there.
“It wasn’t a lost cause,” he said. “But you do kind of think, ‘What are we there for?’ There’s no oil. …”
Months after his return, Ramos toyed with the idea of playing baseball again after speaking with a friend whose cousin had gotten drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers.
Last summer he got in touch with one of his old coaches about helping out with the Chelmsford Merchants, but it was suggested he try to pitch again. He took the mound for an inning, fanned two and induced a pop-up. He was back.
He was almost set to go to Suffolk University, but financial aid fell through and he wanted to stay close to home as his mother, Julia Ortiz, fell ill. The Merchants coaches put him in touch with the DWC staff and the rest is history. Ramos is a homeland security major, perfect for what he wants to do down the road and what he’s done in the past.
“This is close to home, I can take care of my mom and play baseball,” Ramos said. “A great group of guys. They take care of me pretty good. … Coach Pyne has helped me out a lot, helped me get back in shape, and helped me get into the routine of things.”
“I was just intrigued by his story,” Pyne said. “He was a little bit older, little bit more mature, been through some things, both baseball wise and real world wise. When I first met him, I knew I wanted him to come and I wanted to coach him. He has that kind of presence. … The experiences he’s had make his perspective a lot different.”
Ramos has at least two years of eligibility left for college. He wants to take the game to the pro level. “With all the hard work I’ve put into this,” he said, “I really do feel like it will pay off.”
After his first start, Ramos settled down during the Florida trip and tossed a complete game three hitter against New England Collegiate Conference foe Becker University. That proved to Pyne that Ramos can anchor the Eagles’ rotation.
“It didn’t take long for me to see that he’s not only our hardest worker, but he’s the hardest worker I’ve ever coached – at any level,” Pyne said. “The feel I get is he’s very goal oriented and very tunnel-visioned. He’s just so focused. … He’s an active listener. He’s very, very accountable.”
That probably comes from the military discipline.
“To tell you the truth,” Pyne said, “I think the most impressive thing as far as the military goes is that he doesn’t talk about it. If it were me, I don’t think you could go five minutes sitting with me without me telling you three stories about it.
“He’s not running from it; but he doesn’t just blurt it out all the time. He’s not trying to have everyone gather ‘round and listen to him with what are literally war stories.”
But now that’s all they are for Ramos, stories, or memories. He now can wake up every morning knowing he’s safe, and able to play a game he loves.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “It feels great. Every day you appreciate life a lot more. …
“I feel this is what’s going to save me from ever going back.”