And a Note of Brotherly Love
In this Venezuelan Western, an aging gunslinger saunters down from his mountain-top home: a baseball in his left hand, a weathered pitcher’s glove on his right. He walks with a slight limp, a fresh scar from one year ago. On the walls of his ranch are honors and placards from seasons past; he could lead a tranquil life here in the fresh air and wide-open spaces, resting on former glories. But the heat of the battle calls, and he ventures again into the congested city, walking onto the fields of Valencia, surprising his younger counterparts with his all-encompassing wisdom and zen-like command of the strike zone. El Gocho has returned.
El Gocho is none other than Johan Santana. Bearing the nickname of his birthplace–Gochos are the folk from the Andean states of Táchira, Trujillo, and Johan’s own Mérida—and are known for their soft accents and easy-going country manner (Santana had “El Gocho” stitched on his glove when he pitched for the Mets). Usually, to call someone a gocho is a term of endearment, and that’s certainly the case with Santana, much beloved for his continued involvement in his home town of Tovar, to whom he bequeathed a fire truck several years ago. He still participates in an annual Christmas event for children there.
Now, Venezuelans are receiving a late holiday present from El Gocho once again. Dramatically, Santana is scheduled to start on Tuesday for his long-time winter team, Magallanes, who are currently tied for first place in the round-robin tournament which determines Venezuela’s representative in the Caribbean Series. He’s pitched a few simulated games, but Tuesday, the rubber hits the road, so to speak–or more precisely, Johan’s spikes hit the pitching rubber. If he does well, the Orioles may sign him to a Triple-A contract. (He was slated to return to MLB with Baltimore last June when he blew out his achilles tendon in his final preparatory game.)
Meanwhile, in Maracay on Thursday, a momentous family reunion took place. David Ramos came in for the Tigres de Aragua in the eighth inning and shut out the Magallanes (Magallanes won the game, however, 7-1). Catching for David was his brother Wilson. The battery of brothers was supposed to happen on December 29, when David was announced as a starter, but torrential rains canceled that game.
“It was a very emotional moment, as much for me as it was for him,” said Wilson, the Major Leaguer of the brothers. “It was a great joy for our mom, who recorded it for us. It was an amazing feeling when I walked out to the mound and hugged my brother.”
It was only the second time in LVBP history that two brothers formed a pitcher-catcher battery–the first was in 1991, with Richard and Alex Delgado of Zulia. But wait–there’s a third Ramos brother, Natanael, waiting in the wings.
Just three seasons ago, Wilson was kidnapped from his Valencia home and held for a few days before government forces stormed the ransomers’ hideout. In Venezuela, some family reunions are more precious than others. Long live the Ramos Brothers.