MIAMI — When Cesar Ramos is on the mound for the Rays, his focus, naturally, is on the hitter at home plate.
But it's understandable if his mind wanders at times.
Ramos' longtime girlfriend and fiance, Melanie McCauley, is being treated in California for Hodgkin's lymphoma.
"You can block it out all you can, but … it just puts a lot of things in perspective, too. Even if you have a bad outing, you see things a lot different," Ramos said. "It's something that's on your mind. You still have to focus on the task at hand.
"It will be a big relief when she's finally out here, knowing she's healthy."
The outlook is encouraging as McCauley recently completed chemotherapy treatment and now is working through 18 radiation sessions. She received a good report from her oncologist Tuesday, Ramos said, that "all the cancer cells are low and pretty much gone." She got the okay to travel with Ramos soon — they'll meet in New York on June 22 for his 29th birthday — and then she will head to Tampa Bay. And, she can resume eating sushi, which was off-limits due to white-blood cell issues, so she sent him photos of her feast Tuesday.
Those are the kind of little things that have helped them cope. On Monday, when the Rays wives and girlfriends played their Marlins counterparts in a charity softball game, they hung a "Melanie, We miss you" sign and Ramos' jersey in the dugout, and Ramos used his phone's FaceTime feature so McCauley, who played softball at Long Beach State, could watch the game. He also has her name and purple laces, the color of the Hodgkin's awareness campaign, on his batting practice glove.
Still, the separation is difficult. McCauley joined Ramos on the recent Chicago-Kansas City-Denver trip, and when she went back to Los Angeles for her final chemotherapy session May 6, he surprised her, missing a game with team permission, and joined her in the treatment room.
Ramos tries to provide as much support and positive reinforcement as he can each day, via phone and texts, despite the distance, time difference, and demanding schedules.
"That's been the hardest part," he said. "Not being there for her."