11/18/11 1:44 PM EST
Ramos returns to Venezuela after brief DC trip
Catcher deemed to be in 'terrific shape' following kidnapping ordeal
By Brittany Ghiroli / MLB.com
That Ramos, who touched down in the United States on Thursday night, was just nine days removed from having been abducted at gunpoint outside his home -- and exactly a week from when Venezuelan commandos rescued him -- wasn't lost on Rizzo, who described an emotional reunion on Friday in what the organization hopes is the final stages in bringing closure to the horrific incident.
"It was great, seeing him happy," Rizzo said of Ramos, who he exchanged a teary-eyed hug with before meeting a small group of media for a news conference in the Nationals' clubhouse. "He had a big smile on his face, like he usually does. We sat down, relaxed, talked baseball. It'll be all baseball from here on out."
Ramos, who was cleared medically by the team's doctors following Friday's physical, will fly back to Venezuela on Friday night and could resume playing winter ball for the Tigres de Aragua as early as Tuesday. Rizzo, who did most of the talking following a brief statement from Ramos, called the news conference an "exclamation point and a finality" to a nightmare two-day abduction that rocked the collective baseball world.
"Thanks to the fans for your prayers and your support," said Ramos, who Rizzo called "almost insistent" in his desire to return to Washington to personally thank the community for the vigil that took place at the park several hours before Ramos' announced rescue.
"I'm happy to be here, happy to be with my family. See you in Spring Training."
Nationals doctors found Ramos to be in "terrific shape" and he will return to his home country -- something Rizzo said they couldn't ask him to not do -- with a newly detailed security plan that the organization plans to implement for all of its players in Latin America. The Nats will also have a plan in place to keep Ramos' family safe and will have extra security measures for him during the season.
"I had no second thoughts," Rizzo said of letting Ramos return to Venezuela. "He's very prideful about his country, and he feels safe there. He plays for his country. He plays in front of his family. We can't ask him not to do that."
Ramos is expected to be an integral part of the Nationals for years to come. In 2011, his first full big league season, Ramos became Washington's starter behind the plate, hitting .267 with 15 home runs -- a Nats record for a backstop -- and 52 RBIs. He also finished fourth in the National League Rookie of the Year Award voting.
"He's a strong kid," Rizzo said. "Strong physically, strong mentally, strong emotionally. So, it was good to see him with a sense of humor. He just wants to -- first and foremost -- put this behind him, as you can imagine, and get on with the process of thinking and preparing for Spring Training."
Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman was present briefly at the news conference, taking a break from his offseason workout to exchange a hug with Ramos. Rizzo, who was constantly kept abreast of information pertinent to the case, singled out the efforts of all involved in delivering Ramos back safely, and said he feels the organization has addressed the proper channels in avoiding this scenario again.
"I do think the government of Venezuela was very hell-bent on getting him back safely, and certainly MLB security had a lot to do with it," Rizzo said. "And the cooperation between those two groups and the Washington Nationals, I think, is what got us this positive outcome."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.