Ramon Ramirez: 31st Dragon in the Major Leagues
From the moment that Dayton's Blane Layton stepped into the batter's box in Lansing to begin the first game in Dragons history on April 6, 2000, until Dragons center fielder Jefry Sierra snagged a fly ball to record the final out of the season on September 3, 2012, a total of 467 players have appeared on the Dragons' active roster and played in a regulation Midwest League game. Of those 467, 57 have gone on to play in the Major Leagues. That number represents 12 percent of all Dragons players.
While 12 percent of Dragons have played in the Majors, the percentage of all Minor Leaguers who make it is actually quite lower. The Cincinnati Reds have three farm clubs below the Dragons on their organizational ladder, and many of the players from those teams never make it to Dayton. For every Minor League player, the rewards of a Major League career are the long term goal, but the road to the show is challenging.
You have to wonder what pitcher Ramon Ramirez thought of his chances of making it as he contemplated his future in 2002. Ramirez was 19 years old and he had already been signed and released by the San Diego Padres organization after appearing in just 12 games. That summer, he was without a team, not even playing. Just six years later, having passed through Dayton, he would be firing baseballs past the likes of Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, and the Milwaukee Brewers at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati.
Ramirez originally signed with the Padres at age 17 in 2000. In June of 2001, the right-hander from Venezuela was given his unconditional release and was out of baseball. For most players, that marks the end of the line. Fortunately for Ramirez, on May 12, 2003, he was signed by the Reds and given a second baseball life.
After a year with the Reds' Venezuelan Summer League club and one season at Billings, Ramirez made his way to Dayton in 2005. He spent the entire season with the Dragons, finishing second to Homer Bailey in starts among all pitchers. Ramirez's best day with the Dragons came on April 16th against Fort Wayne. On a warm spring night, Ramirez fired five no-hit innings. He struck out three and faced just one batter over the minimum. But in an early-season game in a year when the Reds utilized a tandem pitching system, Ramirez reached his pitch limit at the end of the fifth and was lifted. Few pitchers in Dragons history have ever left a game with a no-hitter in tact (Daniel Renken was the most recent in 2011 when he tossed six no-hit innings at Quad Cities). Only one no-hitter has ever been thrown in Dragons history, by Johnny Cueto in 2006. On that date in 2005, Fort Wayne finished the game with only hit, a sixth inning single against Dragons reliever Rafael Gonzalez after Ramirez had come out of the game.
Ramirez finished the season in Dayton with modest numbers, going 5-7 with a 4.50 earned run average in 114 innings. He moved up the ladder to Sarasota in 2006 and then in 2007, passed through Double-A to finish the year with Triple-A Louisville, going 11-3 overall with three different clubs.
Ramirez started 2008 back in Double-A with Chattanooga, then moved to Louisville when a spot opened in late-May. He remained with the Bats until late-August, going 4-5 with a 3.08 ERA. On August 30, his unlikely story reached its pinnacle. He was called up by the Reds to start a game against the Giants in Cincinnati. He gave the club seven strong innings and left with a 6-3 lead. The Giants tied the game against the Reds bullpen in the eighth, denying Ramirez his first big league victory, although the Reds did come back to win the game on an RBI triple by Corey Patterson to drive in rookie Jay Bruce with the eventual winning run.
In his next appearance five days later, Ramirez threw three perfect innings against the Pirates. Then on September 9th against Milwaukee, he fired one-hit baseball over six innings, allowing just one run but again seeing his team lose a three-run lead after he left the game before winning in extra innings. Ramirez did win his next start, beating the Brewers, and he yielded only two runs in each of his final two starts of the year. With the Reds in 2008, he was 1-0 with a 2.45 ERA in five games including four starts.
After pitching for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic in March of 2009, Ramirez spent most of the season in Triple-A with Louisville, going 6-7 with a 4.03 ERA. He did appear in 11 games as a reliever for the Reds, logging a 3.65 ERA without a win or loss. Following the season, the Reds removed Ramirez from their 40-man roster and he was claimed off waivers. He spent 2010 in Triple-A with the Red Sox. He signed to play in Korea in 2011 and then in 2012, he pitched effectively in Mexico.
Ramirez is now 30 years old will be looking to continue his career in 2013. His 136 innings of work in the Mexican League last summer might have demonstrated the consistency needed to bring another opportunity with an affiliated club. He is currently pitching in the Venezuelan Winter League playoffs and finished fourth in the circuit in innings pitched during the regular season. Ramon A. Ramirez is sometimes confused with reliever Ramon S. Ramirez, who pitched for the Mets in 2012 after time with the Giants, Red Sox, Royals, and Rockies. Ramon A. Ramirez was the 31st Dragons player to reach the Major Leagues.
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