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Call Harold Ramirez a lot of things for Rays, including Mr. Happy

5 things to know about the hitter who would be leading the AL if not for a month lost to injury.
Harold Ramirez has been a breath of fresh air in the clubhouse and a reliable bat (when healthy) in the lineup for the Rays.
Harold Ramirez has been a breath of fresh air in the clubhouse and a reliable bat (when healthy) in the lineup for the Rays. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Aug. 29

MIAMI — So, it turns out Harold Ramirez is not always happy.

The extreme effervescence and beaming smile is dimmed — for a short while — after Rays losses. Definitely after being hit by a pitch July 17, the fractured thumb sidelining him for a month.

And during a stretch in April, having been acquired late in spring training from the Cubs, when he was frustrated about not being in the Rays lineup very often.

A phone call to his mother, Celina, in their native Colombia, got him calm and confident that if he kept working hard he’d get his chance and take full advantage.

“I just believed in myself,” Ramirez said, “and what my mom said.”

Celina, who is visiting this week, has had a major influence on her son’s career and life — enough that he has her name tattooed prominently on his right arm.

Celina got him playing baseball at age 3, taking him every day to a field near their house in Cartagena, where she and Harold’s dad, Andres, played softball.

“She said I needed to go there because I had too much energy and I needed to run around,” Ramirez said. “But I took advantage, and I started to play baseball.”

That childhood energy remains, as Ramirez is one of the Rays’ most enthusiastic, animated and loudest cheerleaders in the dugout. “He’s great,” manager Kevin Cash said. “Just a genuinely good person.” That, too, comes from Celina, as that’s how the family grew up watching all games, always cheering.

As does his refreshing general temperament.

“That’s part of my family,” Ramirez said. “Because everybody in my family is always happy, we enjoy life. We really are a very happy family. No matter the problems, we always look for something good.”

Here are four more things to know about Ramirez:

Fit for a king?

Harold Ramirez celebrates after hitting a double in the 11th inning against the Angels on Aug. 24.
Harold Ramirez celebrates after hitting a double in the 11th inning against the Angels on Aug. 24. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

When Ramirez signed with the Pirates as a 16-year-old in July 2011, scout Rene Gayo said his ability to handle all kinds of pitches and speed to beat out ground balls could eventually lead to a batting title. Ramirez, 28 next week, has won a couple in the minors and winter ball.

Had he not missed the month with the broken thumb, he would be battling to win the American League crown this year. His .325, average is tops among AL hitters with at least the 317 plate appearances he has made.

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The problem is that he needs 394 (3.1 per team game) to qualify for the race now, and 502 total, which he realistically can’t reach with only 35 games left. Ramirez said Gayo texts often now: “He says, ‘Remember what I told you?’ He feels so sorry I got hurt, and he says, ‘I know you can do it.’”

Blue’s clues

The blue hair may stick around permanently if Harold Ramirez and the Rays win it all.
The blue hair may stick around permanently if Harold Ramirez and the Rays win it all. [ WILL VRAGOVIC | Tampa Bay Rays ]

Ramirez decided last offseason, somewhat on a whim, to dye his hair blue since he was going to play winter ball in Colombia for the Caimanes de Barranquilla, and that was their primary color. He liked it enough to keep it when he headed back to the United States after the lockout ended. It was just happenstance that he was with the Cubs, who wore blue, and got traded to the Rays, who did, too. He plans to stay with the somewhat electric blue for now, and says he if he wins a World Series, forever.

Contact sport

It's rare that Harold Ramirez doesn't make contact with the ball when he's at the plate.
It's rare that Harold Ramirez doesn't make contact with the ball when he's at the plate. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

One thing different about Ramirez’s hitting style is how often he makes contact, with a career-low 14.5 percent strikeout percentage, and 5.1 percent walk rate, both well under league average. The other is how simple of an approach he has — just trying each time up to hit his way on base. He has a plan based on the situation and needs only basic information:

“All I want to know are what pitches he throws, and how hard he throws. That’s it.” Actually, Rays hitting coach Chad Mottola said, “sometimes not even that much. One night, I was scrambling to get (data) on the last pitcher (coming in) and he said, ‘That’s fine, ‘I’ll just see it and hit it.’ ... Most humans can’t do that. But he’s shown the ability to do it.”

Quick learner

Ramirez started learning English as soon as he came to Bradenton to start his pro career, taking classes the Pirates offered. But it was a minor-league pitcher on his team, and eventual close friend, Isaac Sanchez, a New York native of Dominican lineage, who forced the action. “He always said to me, ‘Harold, you’ve got to talk to me in English, and if you say something bad, I’m going to correct you,’” Ramirez said. “So that’s how I started.”

Also ...

Harold Ramirez has given his seal of approval to the nicknames “Hittin’ Harold” and “Barreled Ramirez."
Harold Ramirez has given his seal of approval to the nicknames “Hittin’ Harold” and “Barreled Ramirez." [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

The Rays are Ramirez’s sixth team, following the Pirates, Blue Jays, Marlins (for whom he debuted in 2019), Indians and Cubs; he has been traded three times, designated for assignment twice and outrighted to the minors once. … He likes both nicknames that get thrown around the clubhouse related to his offensive prowess, “Hittin’ Harold” and “Barreled Ramirez.” ... Though used mostly in the outfield and DH previously in the majors and minors, he has played first base in Colombia, and the Rays have started him there 17 times. ... He has two sons Elian (5) and Ethan (2) — whose names he also has tattooed — who live with his ex-wife in Miami. … Growing up in Colombia, he also played soccer, volleyball and basketball. ... The $1.05 million bonus he got from the Pirates in 2011 was the second largest they’d given an international free agent.

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