In front of dozens of fans dressed in orange and black, along with those out on their lunch break on a hot day during work, Oriole catcher Ramon Hernandez took questions from fans for about 25 minutes Tuesday afternoon in downtown Baltimore.
The event was sponsored by ESPN Zone in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and the Baltimore Orioles’ public relations department, and Hernandez was reflective, candid and full of praise for the organization he currently plays for.
Fred Manfra, the team’s play-by-play radio announcer, acted as the moderator and the catcher talked about a wide variety of subjects about the sport and also everyday life as a ballplayer. As well, fans answered trivia questions about the catcher for complimentary game tickets and after the Q & A, fans were invited to have him autograph whatever memorabilia that they brought.
The afternoon event took place after he hit a huge home run to help the Orioles charge to victory over Toronto. He started off the Q&A as mentioned about being able to wake up and bounce back the next day to see the crowd in attendance – considering the sweltering heat the Mid-Atlantic region has had of late, “You get used to it – a little bit”.
He added, “you come here, see the guys, come and play the best baseball you can; we like the fans’ support – you know, we try to have fun.”
Needless to say, it’s been quite a year for the Baltimore Orioles – especially considering the doomsday predictions of many; thus, Fred touched upon the subject and Ramon expanded on it from a player’s perspective.
“This year – it’s been great, we’ve come back winning; last year, we’d be winning, and then we’d lose at the end. So it was not going to happen -- so you know -- all guys, we’ve been enjoying every game; we just take one game at a time, we don’t even think about tomorrow. We’re thinking about that game, that day. When we win, we try to enjoy it the most we can.”
Manfra soon turned to the topic of Radhames Liz – the starting pitcher on Monday --- thus, after a tough start by the young pitcher; Ramon had nothing but praise for him noting changes he saw in Radhames in his first tour of duty in the majors versus now.
“He’s a little bit more calm now – he’s more in charge of himself – enjoying the game, we’re trying to help him; myself and everyone else on the team who has been playing a long time.”
Hernandez added, “We come out and play baseball and try to have fun – we try not to make the game harder than it should be. He (Liz) is enjoying it, and so are we.” As well, in encouraging the fire-baller, he quipped, “We don’t talk about much, enjoy the game; I tell him to have fun, this is baseball. Don’t try to be too perfect, or do too much -- just do your best – if it works, fine; if not, walk with your head high, try hard and have fun.”
Then the conversation turned to onto the topic of hitting and his approach at the plate, and Ramon surprisingly doesn’t put too much analysis into it, preferring to keep things simple.
“I don’t think much about it. Every at bat is different – each at-bat is a new one. I give myself a good pitch to hit and try to get ahead of the count – I’m trying to give myself a good-at-bat every time.”
As any Oriole has observed, Ramon’s tenure with Baltimore has been filled with ups and downs; however, he’s done his best to try to keep things in perspective as a veteran.
“First of all, I cannot get mad (when he struggles) – I just try my best, and you can do is give your best – after you hit it, sometimes it doesn’t matter where it goes. Some years are good – some are bad; I won’t walk with my head down, I try my hardest every day; I keep trying as hard as I can and I try to get better as a baseball player – I keep pushing it. Every day is a new day; it’s a new chance.”
He was soon asked about his favorite players growing up in the game of baseball, and he gave his praise to former Twin, Tony Oliva.
“There were a few players I liked, but not many growing up. For me, I really liked Tony Oliva – the way he caught; the way he played the game – hard as he could. I loved his attitude on the field; he was truly a leader and did whatever he could to help his team win.”
Thereafter Fred Manfra asked what position Roman liked playing growing up as a kid and he said, “I liked shortshop. Catching was too hard -- tiring. They made a catcher because I could not run well.”
He also added, in determining who was chosen to play each respective position as a kid in a joking fashion, “if you wanted to play outfield – you have to be fast; infield – you have to be fast, but catcher – you can be slow.”
Hernandez also talked about his position, the pressure he faces with a young staff, and he quipped, “it’s pretty tough – especially the mentality – it’s not like your ability, you have the ability to play the game; you know how can catch the baseball, hit the baseball. You know, it’s calling the whole game – when you have a young pitcher and for four innings he’s been good; in the fifth inning, he’s wild, and trying to throw strikes. Sometimes, you have to squat down for thirty minutes in one inning – it’s about helping your pitcher get through a tough inning, that’s the hardest part.”
He also added, “everyone is different, they are all tough -- you’re trying to keep everything straight and going and trying to get outs. It’s difficult when it is this hot.”
As well, he went into his preparation before a game, “first of all, you have to have a good night’s sleep – you got to go to the stadium, and you have to eat well. You have to stretch, get loose, stretch and go back out – you have to keep loose throughout the game. After 45 minutes of practice, you go in the hot tub, get a little warm and then we come out and play.”
The mood at the ESPN became lighter as he talked about his teammates – a popular subject for anyone who has had to sit on the wooden stools facing the crowd.
Obviously, he only had love for his teammates.
“It’s a great team. We all go out to eat, we also support, help each other – that’s the only reason we’re having fun. The coaches, the manager, the players, we’re having fun. The toughest thing is when we lose, but when we win – we all win.”
The topic soon turned to the skipper, Dave Trembley, and his influence on the Baltimore Orioles squad has been immeasurable.
“I think he’s been great with us since Spring Training. He respects you, if you respect the game. He expects you to play hard; be on time. Every time we ask him something, he tries his best to do what you want. Right now, we’d go through a brick wall – it’s not just me, it’s everyone. He’s done a great job with the team, the pitching staff, and the players. He’s been a great, great manager.”
Manfra, afterwards brought up George Sherrill, who has been nothing but special in his first season with the team as the closer. Hernandez gave the straight-bill wearing southpaw nothing but respect and admiration.
“He’s a great guy and works really hard. He comes from the independent league, and he’s been through a lot of stuff. He’s done really well, and ended up in the All-Star Game. All he does is try to end the game, and he’s a great teammate -- he’s doing the best he can in the big leagues.”
Naturally, he went on about his teammates, especially considering some tidbits, and some fun stuff.
“Adam Jones is a joker, young guy; Millar is the one talking – I don’t know he does in house all day long, he just talks all day long -- he never gets tired. He jokes with music, and loves talking.”
The topic soon turned back to Ramon’s catching and Manfra touched upon his preparation for the 2008 season, considering the struggles he had in 2007 with injuries and poor numbers after his banner season in 2006.
Ramon said, “It was hard, I trained a lot, and came trying to get into good shape. My injuries – my oblique – I trained started in November, it was a long offseason. I came to Spring Training trying not to get injured, and be healthy all year along. I got a personal trainer -- did stretching exercises, running, trying to get my body stronger so I don’t pull any muscles.”
The topic soon turned to his preparation and interaction with the pitching staff before and during a series.
Ramon quipped as he started on getting the starting pitchers ready, along with his life as a catcher during the course of action in a game, “the first game of the series; we all meet and get together and talk with the starting pitchers. After that, you meet with the pitcher, pitching coach, every game – as every game it’s a different pitcher. You watch videos, tape; even during the game, you see who’s coming in – you look to see who’s coming in to relieve – if he’s a right or left hander. There’s a lot of talking.”
Finally, the Q&A ended with Manfra asking about his favorite moment as an Oriole, and with the comebacks and inspired play, he mentioned his banner moment was the game he played -- the night before.
“The one with Detroit – we come into the game losing 6-0; especially with like that with a good bullpen – they’ve got three good bullpen guys in the 7th, 8th, 9th, you’re going to see them that day. They have a good lineup, especially the offense – it’s one of the most exciting I’ve ever been in.”