'Everybody's best buddy': Ramirez honored by Lowe, Rays

March 25th, 2022

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Brandon Lowe knew the minute the ball met his bat in the bottom of the second inning Friday that it was headed out.

Lowe couldn’t help but smile. As he jogged around the bases, easily tracked by his brightly colored cleats that nearly glowed in the afternoon sun, Lowe knew the grand slam was a sign.

Lowe's buddy, Jean Ramirez, might be gone, but he would never be far away.

“It was definitely a really awesome day for a performance like that,” Lowe said. “It definitely felt like you weren’t out there alone.”

Lowe’s homer provided the early support during the Rays’ 9-4 victory over the Orioles at Charlotte Sports Park. After a winless spring to that point, Tampa Bay’s victory should have been a celebration.

Something else happened, though, that meant a lot more than wins and losses. On Friday, the Rays paid tribute to Ramirez, their fallen friend and teammate who died by suicide near his Fort Worth, Texas, home on Jan. 10.

The bullpen catcher was just 28 years old.

“I said to the guys the other day: We really work hard to be the best teammates, and Jean was everybody's best buddy,” manager Kevin Cash said. “It's very sad. He was coming into his own as being able to be a guy that I know our pitchers would lean on in good times and bad times.

“They really found comfort in their relationship with him.”

Nods to Ramirez were plentiful at the park, from the “JR” banner that hung on the bullpen fence to the No. 98 “Ramirez” jerseys each of the starters wore in his memory. Ramirez’s parents, Carlos and Toni Ramirez, watched the game from behind home plate, and the team held a moment of silence on the field just prior to the national anthem.

And then, of course, the shoes. Jean Ramirez was an artist who applied his custom designs to many of the Rays’ cleats. Some of his friends, like lefty Shane McClanahan, have found places of honor at home to display them. Cash sported his pair in the dugout.

Others, like Lowe -- who added a run-scoring single in the fourth and finished 2-for-2 with five RBIs -- chose to pay tribute in a different way.  

A few guys called [the grand slam]; they threw their hats down,” starter Josh Fleming said. “It was really cool to see that, and you know, he's wearing the cleats that Jean made for him.

“It’s kind of poetic, so that was very cool. A very special moment.”

His friend’s death hit Lowe especially hard, as he and his wife, Madison, are fierce mental health advocates. The Lowes started Home Runs for Hope in June 2019, a charity program that donates money to the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay each time he hits a home run.

And as much as Lowe loves the cleats Ramirez made especially for him -- he also had his lone four-hit game of 2021 while wearing them on Sept. 25 -- he is donating a similar game-worn pair to be auctioned off in May, alongside the Rays’ No. 98 game-worn jerseys, during Mental Health Awareness Month.

“Hopefully, we can keep working with his family, his mom and his dad, to really amplify that if you need help … if you're not feeling [like] yourself, go get help," Lowe said.

“It's OK to not be all right and go seek some help. It's OK to not be OK.”