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Wednesday, January 28, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
Steve Kelley / Times staff columnist
Those bittersweet winter rituals of baseball had begun again for Rob Ramsay. He was throwing, lifting weights, doing all of the things that are as natural a part of his winters as the snows of Pullman.
After recovering from brain surgery, after coming back to the mound last season in the Class A California League, Ramsay knows he still belongs. He knows he still can win.
At 30, he is a different kind of pitcher now than when he threw for the Mariners in the 2000 American League Championship Series against the New York Yankees. The 90 mph fastball is gone. Now Ramsay is winning with location and changeups. He throws in the low 80s now, kind of a 6-foot-5 version of Jamie Moyer.
Ramsay is ready for spring training, but as December gave way to mid-January he began to wonder if spring training was ready for him.
The phone wasn't ringing and in his brief melancholy moments Ramsay thought maybe his comeback and his career were over.
"It does cross your mind," he said this week from Pullman, "but I don't like to think like that. I figured I was a left-hander, with some big-league experience. My velocity definitely has decreased, but I still believe in myself. And I still want to do all that I can to pitch again."
Ramsay, with the help of agent Steve Canter, was planning to call a personal audition in Pullman. He would invite scouts to come watch him throw. The phone was silent, so Ramsay would make his own noise.
Then the Baltimore Orioles called and offered him hope and another chance at baseball and gave all who have followed Ramsay's courageous victory over cancer another opportunity to root our hearts out for him.
Rob Ramsay is a miracle. Everything about his story is an inspiration and we should celebrate the fact he signed a minor-league contract this week with the Orioles.
He has already beaten the odds. His comeback already is a success, but Ramsay wants more and believes he has more big-league baseball left in his left arm.
Even as he continued his intravenous chemotherapy treatments, Ramsay threw 68 innings, won three of four decisions, walked only 19 hitters and had a 3.57 earned-run average. He made four starts and proved to himself that he could last beyond the fifth and sixth innings.
And here are the even more important statistics. He has had clear brain scans for more than a year. He no longer needs the energy-sapping, time-stealing, intravenous chemotherapy drip treatments.
As a precaution he still occasionally takes an oral chemo, but the side effects are minimal. And, instead of having nerve-jangling MRIs every six weeks, he has them every three months.
"I'm pretty confident that everything's OK," he said.
On Jan. 10, 2002, Ramsay had a cancerous mass the size of a baseball removed from the right frontal lobe of his brain. In November of that year he had more surgery to remove a blood clot in his brain.
All that once was so certain in his life his health, his career, his very future was taken away.
But Ramsay never allowed to think of himself as a victim of cancer. He was a patient with cancer.
He never surrendered to the disease and some of the pessimistic prognosis. He fought his cancer and bravely persevered, with his wife, Samantha, by his side, through the frightening uncertainty of one MRI after another.
Through all of it he never lost sight of the game he loved, and pushed hard against any invading thoughts he never again would pitch.
"I'm a competitor by nature and I love to pitch," Ramsay said. "When you're out there pitching, you have the ball in your hands. You're in control of the game and the moment. It's a one-on-one experience. Just you and the guy at the plate.
"It's a chess match. You're trying to get a hitter out in front of changeup. Or make him swing late at a fastball. And it's really fulfilling when you can execute."
Rob Ramsay is talking baseball again. Not cancer. A year ago he was wondering if he still could get hitters out. Now he knows he can.
"I still remember how hard it was for me to get out of bed after my surgery," he said. "It kind of humbles you in a sense. It opens up your eyes to how lucky you were to be a big-league pitcher and to have the kind of life you have.
"Now every morning when I wake up and see my wife it means so much to me. I don't think I take anything for granted any more my wife, my family, my friends. I've learned to enjoy the simple things again."
Like knowing there's a game to play and a changeup about to be thrown that has strike three written all over it.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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