GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- There is usually a pack of children trailing behind Jose Ramirez when he returns to his hometown of Bani in the Dominican Republic in the offseason. While Ramirez walks the roads he grew up on, and neighbors call out his name, the kids trace his every step.Ramirez
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- There is usually a pack of children trailing behind Jose Ramirez when he returns to his hometown of Bani in the Dominican Republic in the offseason. While Ramirez walks the roads he grew up on, and neighbors call out his name, the kids trace his every step.
Ramirez loves giving the young Bani boys someone they can look to as a role model. He was one of those kids. He was told he was too small to play baseball, even as he held his own in games with older players. Ramirez knew the drive he had internally, and now he is walking proof that even the perceived runt of the litter can become an alpha dog.
• Spring info | Tickets | Schedule
"It's a great example for them," Ramirez said on Friday morning through a translator. "I played on that exact same field, and those kids' coaches can say, 'Look, there's Jose Ramirez. He used to play here.' So, it's a great example for those little kids."
:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::
Ramirez was asked if the kids try to mimic his signature strut.
He cracked a smile.
"Yeah, a lot of them have their flow," he said.
Ramirez enjoyed a breakout season two years ago, but the switch-hitting infielder took the league by storm last season for the Indians. He started for the American League at third base in the All-Star Game -- the first Cleveland starter via fan voting since 2001 -- and churned out 56 doubles and 91 extra-base hits when the smoke cleared on his season.
In 152 games for the AL Central-champion Tribe last summer, Ramirez hit .318 with 29 homers, 83 RBIs, 107 runs scored and 17 stolen bases. Among Cleveland fans, he is known for his unrelenting motor and his mad dashes that turn singles into doubles, and leave his helmet bouncing several feet behind him.
For his work last year, Ramirez finished third in voting for the AL Most Valuable Player Award and he was rewarded with a Silver Slugger trophy.
"I got a Silver Slugger?" quipped Ramirez, pretending not to remember.
Ramirez said he has turned the page on 2017.
He might say it no longer matters to him, but it sure matters to the kids in his hometown.
"Whenever they see me," he said, "they go crazy."
Ramirez went from playing Vitilla -- a game in which sticks are used to swing at water jug caps -- in the D.R. as a kid to starring on the biggest stages that the Majors have to offer. His doubters are long gone.
"It's pretty cool," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "I'm sure for Jose, it's probably a little, 'Pinch me,' a little bit at times. He knows where he belongs, as far as players go."
When he was not visiting his grandmother, or heading to the elegant home he helped purchase for his mom, Ramirez was working out at Luis Maria Herrera Stadium in Bani. Kids would gather the baseballs he sent flying into the trees beyond the faded green walls, or watch from the cement bleacher seats as he pounded a bat into an oversized tire. He would also head south of town to run on a beach along the D.R.'s southern coast.
He did not alter his training based on the uncertainty surrounding his place on the field with the Indians. As things currently stand, Ramirez will return to third base, even though he finished last season at second while Jason Kipnis was out with injury. Asked where he prefers to play, Ramirez joked that he will put on catching gear if that is what Francona asks of him.
"I just want to keep playing," he said, "and keep doing the hard work and giving my very best."
And giving his young fans back home an example of how that hard work can pay off.
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.