Wilson Ramos sets a few goals at the start of every season. Nothing crazy. Staying healthy is usually at the top of his list. This year, though, the veteran catcher made a special vow to his wife.
"I promised her I would make the all-star [team]," Ramos said Sunday. "That was pretty special to me."
For many reasons. On a professional level, Ramos wanted to prove he was back to being as good as ever after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee late in the 2016 season. But on a personal note, Ramos and his wife, Yely, wanted to spend the all-star break in Washington, where he played for seven years and established himself as one of the best catchers in baseball.
It couldn't have been more satisfying, then, for Ramos to be voted in as the American League's starting catcher. And although he was unable to play in the All-Star Game because of a hamstring injury, he still stood on the third-base line for the pregame introductions and saluted a Nationals Park crowd that welcomed him back with a warm ovation.
"I enjoyed that moment a lot because I've got good memories in that organization, in that stadium," Ramos said. "And all the fans love me over there."
But for as popular as "The Buffalo" is in the nation's capital, he might receive a different sort of greeting Tuesday night, when he returns for the first time as a member of the rival Phillies.
It has been three weeks since the Phillies acquired Ramos from the Tampa Bay Rays for, well, basically nothing, and one week since he returned from the disabled list. He has taken over as the primary catcher and gone 7-for-17 (.412) with four doubles and four RBI in four games, including a smashing debut in which he got three hits and drove in three runs in a 7-4 victory over the Boston Red Sox at Citizens Bank Park.
Indeed, Ramos has been one of the brightest spots for the Phillies at a time when they have lost eight of the last 13 games. And now he leads them into a pivotal three-game series against the third-place Nationals, whose last hope of turning around a season in which they have massively underachieved hinges on their sweeping the Phillies this week.
This is no time for sentimentality, and Ramos knows it.
"I don't know. It's probably going to be different," he said. "We're in the same division. We're fighting for the playoffs. But the fans, they know how I play, the effort that I give when I'm between those white lines. They know me really well."
The Phillies traded for Ramos because they believe he can be a difference-maker.
For four months, they relied on two inexperienced catchers — rookie Jorge Alfaro and backup Andrew Knapp — and endured their respective growing pains behind the plate. If the Phillies weren't contending for the NL East crown, they likely would have kept on riding Alfaro and Knapp right through to the end of the season.
But Ramos is a clear upgrade, at least offensively. He has the second-highest slugging percentage (.488) and OPS (.827) among all catchers over the last three seasons, behind only Gary Sanchez of the New York Yankees. A lineup that doesn't score consistently enough can use that type of production in the middle of the order, and if he continues to deliver, the deep-pocketed Phillies might even have to consider re-signing the 31-year-old after the season.
"The dude's a stud," reliever Tommy Hunter said last week. "I had the chance to play with him last year in Tampa Bay, and you can't expect anything less from a buffalo. He's a welcomed addition, and we can't welcome him with more open arms."
Nationals fans did exactly that back in June, when Ramos returned to town with the Rays. Fans cheered him before his first at-bat June 5, and the Nats put together a video tribute to him. It was the least they could do for a guy who caught both of Max Scherzer's no-hitters and his 20-strikeout game.
But given what's at stake this week, it would be awkward for Ramos to receive similarly friendly treatment. The Buffalo isn't expecting it, either. Ramos' wife isn't making the trip this time, having gotten her wish to spend the all-star break in their old city.
"I've got part of my herd on that team, but this is the business, this is the game," Ramos said. "I have to give my best effort now with my new team and try to do my best and win the games."