By Chris Metz
June 25, 2002
PORTLAND, Ore.—The first headache came last November.
Six months later and barely four months removed from having a baseball-sized tumor taken off his brain, Rob Ramsay struggles a bit to find the words to accurately describe that first episode he suffered while hunting in eastern Washington.
“I just didn’t feel right,” he said.
Ramsay felt nauseated. After that first one, he had a few more, then a lot more. Eventually, the only way to alleviate the pain was to lie down.
But lying down was not an option. Ramsay, a 6-foot-5, 215-pound lefthander, had just been picked up by the Padres organization after two and a half seasons in the Mariners chain and another three and a half in the Red Sox system.
He had to prove himself all over again.
It was December, and it was time to start working out with his friend and former Washington State teammate, outfielder Mike Kinkade, who was also in a new organization after joining the Dodgers in the offseason.
But something was really wrong. Ramsay began skipping out on scheduled workouts with Kinkade, which was definitely not in character.
“I can’t imagine how bad his headaches had to be for him not to show up,” Kinkade said. “Missing a workout as a baseball player—you just don’t do that.”
Treatment Just In Time
Finally, Ramsay went to the doctor at the urging of his wife Samantha. It’s a good thing he did, because as his doctors explained, a seizure easily could have taken his life.
On the recommendation of former major league pitcher Ken Brett, who is going through a similar ordeal, Ramsay turned to the University of California-San Francisco for an analysis.
Neurosurgeon Mitchell Berger removed Ramsay’s tumor on Jan. 23 at the UCSF Medical Center. Ramsay still requires extensive treatment and will continue to do so for almost a year. He travels to San Francisco every two months for an MRI.
While Ramsay said he recalls feeling unusually calm going into the 10-hour surgery to remove the tumor, he admits the MRIs can be unnerving.
“In a perfect world, chemotherapy would knock it out and it would go away,” he said. “But you just have to wait and see.”
Working His Way Back
He speaks about the importance of family and how his priorities have changed since the surgery. But make no mistake: Baseball still plays a big part in his life, especially in his recovery.
“It’s good to have a goal while you’re going through something like this,” Ramsay said. “Having that goal gives you something to focus on. The biggest thing so far is just getting my strength back. I’m still a ways away from where I was. That’s frustrating too.”
Ramsay may be with the Beavers for a day, a month or the whole season. His stay with the club is unofficial. He drives to the ballpark knowing he’ll take part in everything the team does except for actually playing.
Portland made perfect sense for Ramsay to reintroduce himself to baseball. His parents live across the river in neighboring Camas, Wash. Ramsay still resides in Pullman, Wash.
Portland pitching coach Dave Rajsich’s brother Gary is the one who originally signed Ramsay in 1996. Manager Rick Sweet knew of Ramsay from the area and remembers him from Tacoma last season, where he went 10-11, 4.82.
“It’s unbelievable what he’s been through,” Sweet said. “He’s worked very hard to get back into pitching shape.”
Aside from a John Olerud-style helmet, Ramsay looks like everyone else. He signs autographs just like everyone else. And, except for wearing a white jersey when the team is coming out in black, he generally fits right in with the team.
The jersey snafu will cost him in kangaroo court. But that’s just the way he wants it, and possibly needs it, at this point in his recovery.
“Out here with the guys, nobody’s treated me any different than anybody else. I’m just one of the guys. That’s what I prefer.”