BRANDON — Sometimes proving things to yourself is just as important as proving them to others. In James Ramsay's case, he didn't have to wait long for either.
After a torn ACL wiped out all but three games of Ramsay's junior year, it was time to find out just how well his knee had healed. Ramsay's rehabilitation during the summer was said to be ahead of schedule. Although he'd been taking batting practice and shagging fly balls in the outfield, he hadn't done it yet when the bullets were flying.
"Game situations and speed are totally different than practice," Ramsay said. "I was anxious to see what I could do, but a little nervous too."
In Brandon High's season-opener against East Bay, Ramsay reached first and inched his way off the bag. Before the injury, Ramsay was considered a five-tool talent and speed may have been his highest asset. This would be the first challenge.
"I had to find out right away if I was back in the groove," he said.
Ramsay took his lead, broke for second base well ahead of the throw, and then came the moment of truth.
" 'Should I dive or go in feet first?' That's what I was saying to myself," Ramsay said. "It was time to see what was going to happen."
Ramsay slid, popped right back up and in the process showed that he still possessed the speed he had before, and his knee withstood the contact. He cleared two physical hurdles and a big mental obstacle as well.
"There's always doubt when you come back from a big injury like that," said Ramsay, a power hitter. "But once you realize you can do it, things just start coming natural again."
Ramsay will undoubtably be one of the most watched players in the county this year. After earning MVP honors on the way to leading Brandon to a Saladino Tournament title and state final appearance as a sophomore, Ramsay and the Eagles had high hopes entering last season. But Ramsay, who was named the St. Petersburg Times Player of the Year as a sophomore, tore his knee on a seemingly harmless slide during practice the week before the 2009 season. After playing three games, an MRI revealed the tear. Couple that with Roderick Shoulders' torn labrum, and the Eagles went from state championship contenders to treading water in a hurry.
"They had so much success during that sophomore season that I think it made that class realize and appreciate how special opportunities can be," Brandon coach Matt Stallbaumer said. "I think it also gave our younger kids a chance to play last year when they might not have without the injuries, and we're expecting big things from those guys this year because of that experience."
Ramsay says his knee feels "100 percent" and he looks forward to opportunities to continue to prove he's healthy. Already signed at the University of South Florida for next year, Ramsay's play this season will go a long way toward determining how high he goes in the June Major League Baseball amateur draft. Ramsay said his dream is to play professional baseball, but he'll have to see how his options pan out. Stallbaumer said the scouts have been flocking to Brandon's field to see just how sturdy Ramsay's knee is.
"Pretty much any time we have live (batting practice) or a game, they've been watching him," Stallbaumer said. "They want to see how he responds. They even watch the way he runs on and off the field. To me he looks as strong, if not stronger, than ever."
But just as Ramsay continues to prove things to others, he continues to do the same with himself. He'd heard the whispers that his knee might not be ready to turn on an inside fastball, that it might not be ready for such a violent torquing motion. In the Eagles' second game of the year against Newsome, Ramsay opened his hips, let his hands go and pivoted on his knee, sending the ball well over the right field fence. Check one more thing off Ramsay's to-do list this season.
"I just love to play baseball, and I use the doubts as fuel," Ramsay said. "This whole experience has just made me appreciate all my opportunities even more."
Brandon Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.