SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic – Aramis Ramirez waits patiently behind the tinted windows of his white Cadillac Escalade as a guard rolls open the gate fronting his multimillion-dollar mansion.
Inside, a pair of maids, wearing matching blue-and-white uniforms, cook and clean in the sprawling, lavishly decorated, two-story home for Ramirez, wife Yudith and the couple’s 2-year-old son, Aramis Jr.
One day, a neighbor – New York Mets pitcher Pedro Martinez – stopped by to say hello. Martinez’s brother, Ramon, also lives in the clean, quiet, tree-lined neighborhood, as does Ramirez’s Chicago Cubs teammate, Neifi Perez.
“This is what I like,” says the All-Star third baseman, who bought the mansion from a Chinese businessman about the time he was signing a four-year, $42 million contract with the Cubs. “I only go to the United States to work. I have a house in Chicago, but I live here.”
A half-hour away, in the overcrowded barrio of Girasoles on the western edge of town, Marlins rookie Hanley Ramirez (no relation to Aramis) is sleeping in the back room of a painfully small concrete-block house he shares with his parents, brother, fiancee and young son.
There are no gates guarding the driveway to this house. In fact, there’s no driveway. Take one step out the front door, and you’re in the narrow, bumpy dirt path that passes for a street – a path that turns to mud in the summer and covers the living room’s tile floor with dust in the winter.
Not surprisingly, Hanley Ramirez wants what Aramis Ramirez has.
“That’s the first thing I’m going to do when I spend a whole year in the big leagues – buy a new house for my family,” he says. “That’s the biggest thing in my life. It’s my mom and dad. They’ve done everything for me since I was a little kid. And now I’ve got a chance to buy them anything they want.”
In that case, Ramirez might want to start looking for a real estate agent. Because thanks to the Marlins, this could be the summer that the heralded shortstop finally sticks in the major leagues.
Ranked as the top prospect in the Boston Red Sox organization each of the past two years, Ramirez had his path to Fenway Park blocked first by Nomar Garciaparra, then by Gold Glove winners Orlando Cabrera and Edgar Renteria. But after the Thanksgiving Day trade that brought him and three minor-league pitchers to Florida in exchange for Mike Lowell, Josh Beckett and Guillermo Mota, Ramirez is rising on the stat charts.
Heading into the weekend, Ramirez was leading the Marlins with a .344 batting average.
“You’re talking about a really talented kid that can do a lot of things,” Marlins general manager Larry Beinfest says. “Hanley Ramirez has all the talent that you need to be a successful major-leaguer.”
All the motivation, too. Stamped as a can’t-miss prospect when the Red Sox signed him as a 16-year-old, Ramirez had raised doubts after hitting .284 in three full-season years in the minors, then striking out in his only two big-league at-bats last September.
Yet Ramirez, 22, says the lofty expectations of others aren’t any greater than the ones he puts on himself.
“I don’t have pressure on me. I just put pressure on myself to play hard every day,” he says, sitting on a worn living room sofa. “You have to be consistent in your work. If you’re not consistent, you’re done.”
As Ramirez talks, he is surrounded by dozens of awards and photos, mementos of a baseball career that started about the time he learned to walk. He pulls one tiny plastic trophy off the shelf and shows it to a guest.
“I won this for hitting the most home runs in my league,” Ramirez says, unsure now whether he hit six or seven. It’s an understandable lapse, because he was just 5 years old at the time.
“Since he was little, all he liked was baseball, baseball, baseball,” says Ramirez’s father, Toribio, a quiet, almost shy man who fixes cars for a living. “And if a person likes something, they can be successful at it.”
He was good at school, too, so Ramirez’s mother, Isabel, was hoping he eventually would study engineering. But the pull of baseball was too strong.
“Since he was little, people told me, “That kid is good, that kid is good,’ ” says Isabel, a gregarious woman who, like her son, punctuates most of her sentences with a smile or a laugh. “He liked to go to school. He never complained. But he decided to be a baseball player instead.”
As a youngster he never thought he would make a living playing the game, though. And not because he wasn’t good enough.
“Let me tell you, before I signed I didn’t know they paid you for playing baseball,” says Ramirez, who learned otherwise when he got a $55,000 bonus from Boston. “I played because I loved it. It was incredible when they told me they were going to sign me and they were going to give me money.”
And they’re going to give him a lot more this season. If Ramirez sticks in the major leagues, he will earn the big-league minimum $327,000, or nearly three times more per week than he made in any one month in the minors.
“I know what I’m going to do. I’m going to get a house and get a business. I want to take care of my parents,” says Ramirez, who says he already has sought financial advice from other Dominicans such as Tony Blanco of the Washington Nationals.
“Last year was his first year in the big leagues. He bought a house, and he’s got money in the bank,” Ramirez says.
But although a big-league salary will make it easier for him to take care of his family – maybe even move him a step closer to buying a house down the street from Pedro Martinez, too – Ramirez insists that’s not what’s driving him. His real motivation, he says, is to prove to the Marlins – and the Red Sox – that be belongs in the major leagues.
“It surprised me when I got to the big leagues,” he says of September’s two-week tryout. “I was in front of my locker and I changed my T-shirt and I tried to throw it in with the dirty clothes. And somebody picked it up and took it to the laundry. Wow! This is the big leagues. Anything you need, they get it for you right away.
“But the hard thing is to stay there. You have to keep working every day. Get early to the field, and do what you’ve got to do. If the Marlins got me, it’s because they want me. I don’t care about the Red Sox. I’m going to play for my team, which is the Marlins right now.”