As this long off-season in Winnipeg wore on, Amos Ramon traded bats for shovels and soldiered along, itching now for the spring and the grass and the mud.
'Once the new year comes around you start getting that itch. Right now that itch is in full effect for me'
Ramon will wear a Goldeyes jersey again, when spring does arrive.
It'll be the infielder's fifth season for the Fish, and fourth in a row playing in the city that has become his full-time home. The last three years on the field were a grind, as he worked to recover from the injury that stole virtually all of his 2011 campaign. But his focus hasn't waned. "I want to play here, and play as long as possible," Ramon said, after the Fish officially announced his signing on Monday. "I rededicated myself to getting back to where I used to be."
Last season wasn't quite it. Ramon went through some slumps as the summer rolled on, and finished with numbers about in the middle of the pack for the Fish: batting average, .268. On-base plus slugging, .746. But as he showed in that remarkable six-game 2012 championship run, where he blasted out a whopping .476 batting average with two home runs, "Famous" Amos has a lot more in the tank. Besides, he's part of the heart of this team.
Not many guys get to do that in the indie leagues, not get to settle in and get to a place where every fan knows their name. But the Fish have Ramon, and outfielder Josh Mazzola, and catcher Luis Alen. Now there's the sophomore Goldeyes coming back in, guys such as knock-out relief duo Chris Kissock and Brendan Lafferty, and solid first baseman Casey Haerther. "Those are the guys you want to build yourself around," Ramon said.
So this off-season is a big one for Ramon, who will turn 31 during the season. He's been working his day job, and working on his groove at the Home Run Sports Training Centre on King Edward Street, where he coaches kids and swings a bat a few times a week. That's helped keep the swing sharp, he said, and in April he'll spend a month training on real baseball fields in his home state of Texas. Though shovelling snow is one way to work out, that trip can't come soon enough.
"Once the new year comes around you start getting that itch," Ramon said. "Right now that itch is in full effect for me. Yeah, it gets hard sometimes, especially for some older guys, getting up and working out and trying to stick to that routine. But you keep telling yourself, when the season comes, it's a blink of an eye and it's gonna be over. And it could be that time where hey, this could be your last season, you don't know."
Pause on that thought, though, because the 2014 season is sparkling ahead and there's a lot of good signs for the Fish. Missing the playoffs last year was a bit of a heartbreaker: Ramon thought they would make it, right until the night they didn't. That left him with the question of what could have been. "If we would have made the playoffs, for sure we would have won the whole thing again," Ramon said. "We were that hot."
This time around, the Fish may be starting from a stronger point. A lot of guys were new to the indies and the team last year, and Ramon wonders if guys were adapting to the grind of the American league. Maybe that's how the Goldeyes fell into the mid-season slump, he mused, and when they sorted it out they just ran out of time. But so many more pieces are in place right now, compared to the same time last year.