BRANDON — For nearly as long as he can remember, Brandon High School's James Ramsay has spent each summer on the baseball field. From Little League All Stars to AAU to baseball showcases, summer meant playing baseball.
This summer, however, has been far from typical.
Ramsay has spent the better part of the last four months rehabbing a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, an injury sustained just prior to the start of the 2009 season. And while he's just beginning to resume activity on the field, most of Ramsay's summer has been spent in a doctor's office.
"It's been strange not playing baseball like I have almost every summer," he said. "But the rehab is going well, and I'm looking forward to next season."
Ramsay wishes he had a snappy story about how he tore his knee. It didn't happen on a highlight-reel catch or stealing home to win a game. It came on a play that Ramsay had done countless times before.
Ramsay was charging in on a fly ball during one of the Eagles' final preseason practices when he attempted a sliding catch. As he slid feet first, Ramsay's ankle caught in the grass and he heard a popping sound in his knee.
"It scared me more than anything," Ramsay said. "But then I went to get up, and it just gave out. I knew something was wrong then."
Ramsay, the St. Petersburg Times Hillsborough County Player of the Year and first team 5A All State selection as a sophomore in 2008, saw a doctor and the prognosis wasn't good. Ramsay's junior year was finished, and surgery was necessary.
"We made it to (the) state (tournament) the year before, so I was excited to get going in my junior year," Ramsay said. "I was devastated."
Ramsay's future flashed before him as he prepared to go under the knife. How would the knee respond to surgery? Would his scholarship to the University of South Florida, a school to which Ramsay verbally committed in January, still be there? How would this affect his chances in the 2010 Major League Baseball draft?
But Ramsay worried most about the Eagles.
"I felt like I let the guys down when it happened," Ramsay said. "I felt like I let all our fans down."
So just days after his surgery, Ramsay put on his jersey and showed up to Brandon's game.
"A lot of kids would have moped around after something like that took away their season," Brandon coach Matt Stallbaumer said. "I mean, this kid is fresh off of surgery, and here he is in full uniform to be with his team and cheer them on."
Although Ramsay said "it hurt me too much sometimes" to go to all the games, he was there for most of them. He couldn't help out in the batter's box, but he could still lead by example.
"I think he helped to motivate the team," Stallbaumer said. "That's just the type of kid James is."
Now that his knee is regaining strength through weight training and agility drills, Ramsay plans to help the Eagles return to the state final four when baseball season rolls around. He expects to be cleared to run Aug. 20, then resume working out with the Eagles during fall practices.
Ramsay said his biggest hurdle will be the mental side of things.
"That first time I slide or dive, it will be tough," he said. "But all this is just a curveball that I have to adjust to."
And while Ramsay may not be hitting to many of those curveballs on the diamond this summer, he said taking a few months off isn't the worst thing in the world.
"It's kind of a blessing because I've never had this kind of time during the summer. I've been able to go to the beach and stuff like that," he said. "It's been great spending a lot of time with my friends and family. ... But man, I can't wait to get back out there."
Brandon Wright can be reached at email@example.com.