FROM RAMONA GARDENS TO THE MAJOR LEAGUES, NOE RAMIREZ BEAT THE ODDS

Back before COVID when fans were allowed to buy a ticket and watch a game in person, folks would flood to the stadium in Anaheim to catch a glimpse of Mike Trout, baseball’s most prolific star, play center field for the Los Angeles Angels. As an added bonus, they could also see veteran Albert Pujols, sure to be a first ballot Hall of Fame inductee, stationed at first base. The two men make an annual salary of $36 to 29 million respectively, although those wages are prorated in the current mini-60 game season. But for the Angels avid Mexican aficionados, the drawing card has always been Noe Ramirez, a 30 year old relief pitcher who is in the final year of a $900,000 contract.

Ramirez, you see, is a “Home Boy,” an East Los Angeles native who used to get dozens of ticket requests when the Angels hosted teams at the “Big A” in 2018-19. But if they couldn’t get in for free, Noe’s compadres would attend the games anyway, knowing that at best, they would only see him pitch for one inning. It didn’t matter because Ramirez is one of their own, and a major league player just like Trout and Pujols. And now in the weird 2020 sprint for the playoffs, Noe’s compaƱeros can watch the home and away games on the tube while enjoying a cold beer in their living rooms.

Noe Ramirez and his five siblings grew up in the Boyle Heights public housing projects called Ramona Gardens near N. Soto Street, the epicenter for dangerous gangs and drug activity. It’s easy for kids to become products of their environment, but Noe and his two brothers routinely spent their free time playing baseball at the nearby park and rec center. Youngsters from the other apartment buildings often joined them while only yards away in the main parking lot, the local gang known as Big Hazard would conduct their business. Ramirez admits they were lucky not to get hung up in this activity, but credits his immigrant parents for keeping him grounded and on the right track.

“They taught our family love at a very early age, and gave us a strong foundation to be successful in life,” notes Noe. “Unfortunately, that’s not the case for many kids growing up in my neighborhood.”

Ramirez was a prep star at Alhambra High School with numbers good enough to get him a ride at college baseball powerhouse Cal State Fullerton. While pitching for the Titans, Noe was named to the second team All-American honors by Collegiate Baseball and the all Big West Conference first team. That caught the attention of the Boston Red Sox, who selected Ramirez in the fourth round of the 2011 amateur draft after his junior year. It seems however, that the boys in Beantown had Noe pegged as a future starting pitcher. When that looked like it wouldn’t work out, Noe became “lost” in the Red Sox minor league system for six years until the Angels picked him up on waivers in August of 2017.

Pitching for three years at the Division 1 college level gave Ramirez the maturity to stay positive during those adventures in the Red Sox organization. But Noe was energized by the opportunity to play again on the west coast near those who supported him, and it turned his career around. The lanky 6′-3″, 195 pound string bean is best suited for the bullpen with his deceptive delivery, array of pitches and athletic ability to perform with ducks on the pond.

“I’m not the biggest guy in the world and don’t throw the ball 100 mph, so I have to move the ball around and be creative,” explains Ramirez.

Noe’s best pitch continues to be the change-up, which impressed the Red Sox from the get go. But he also throws a quality slider, a cut fastball and even an occasional knuckle ball. The Angels, despite the club’s many “name” players, do not share the consistent success of the crosstown Dodgers in the National League. But playing in Anaheim since late 2017, Ramirez has racked up decent numbers in brief albeit frequent appearances. As a relief specialist, Ramirez has a record of 13-9 over three plus years, and has notched 196 strikeouts over 175 innings.

Noe’s happy-go-lucky yet professional attitude has made him a popular figure on and off the field. Since arriving back in Los Angeles, Ramirez has made several charity appearances at schools and hospitals while running baseball clinics in the off-season with the Boys and Girls Club in Boyle Heights. For those achievements, Noe was honored at a special session of the Los Angeles City Council back in October 1998.

“Noe Ramirez is a great inspiration to our youth, especially in our Eastside communities,” said Councilman Jose Huizar. “His talent, dedication and determination has propelled him to baseball’s highest level. And more importantly, he’s reaching back to help others achieve their dreams.”

As a kid raised in the barrio, you don’t expect to have carne asada every night for dinner. More often than not, it’s tortillas and beans. But when you combine natural ability with a strong work ethic, people tend to take notice and doors begin to open. It didn’t happen right away for Noe Ramirez, and that makes his journey to the big leagues that much sweeter. Now his goal is to stay on top of the mountain and reach out to others who dare to make the climb. That’s how Noe rolls.

Note- Feature photo courtesy of halohangout.com

About Steve Randel

Former amateur baseball scout in Latin America and current high school coach. International sports and current events journalist for 42 years.

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