If you believe in destiny, or something like it – that everything happens for a reason – you might guess that Carlos Ramirez was destined to coach Matt Acker’s Port Angeles Lefties. Or if not the Lefties, another team associated with Acker.
“We met in Hawai’i,” Acker said, “when I started working baseball camps. One of the people in my group was Carlos. We stayed in touch, and he was always someone I wanted to coach with.”
“I met Matt 20 years ago in Hawai’i,” Ramirez recalls, “when he was one of the talented, up-and-coming young coaches. And later he said to me, ‘One of my dreams has always been coaching next to you.’ ”
Carlos Ramirez grew up a long, long way from Hawai’i.
“In Puerto Rico my dad played pro baseball,” he says. “I don’t remember playing catch with him. I just did everything on my own, because I wanted to be like my dad. Great thing about baseball, even if you’re by yourself there’s always something you can do.”
In 1986, Ramirez moved from Puerto Rico to Miami, where he lived with an uncle and played baseball at Sunset Senior High School. There, Ramirez worked out with another local ballplayer, Robert Rojas … and that’s how Ramirez met Robert’s father, longtime major leaguer Cookie Rojas, “who was my mentor.”
After Ramirez’s first game in high school, Angels scout Preston Douglas advised him to play at local powerhouse Miami Dade Community College/South, under ABCA Hall of Famer Charlie Greene. In the ensuing years, Carlos Ramirez became one of those somewhat mythical creatures: Baseball Man. He rubbed shoulders with future MLB All-Stars, scouted for nearly two decades, coached at various colleges. He also got married and raised two sons, including Jean, who played college ball at Arkansas and Illinois State before getting drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays in 2016.
Jean didn’t make much progress as a player in the Rays’ farm system, but he obviously made a distinct impression on the organization, because in 2019 he jumped all the way to the big leagues … as Tampa Bay’s bullpen catcher. In 2022, Rays manager Kevin Cash said, “He brought so much passion and energy each day to our clubhouse and bullpen, and his love for the Rays and baseball was evident to all who interacted with him.”
Cash’s statement came on January 11, one day after Jean Ramirez’s body was found in a field near his family’s home in Fort Worth, Texas; a coroner soon would rule his death a suicide.
“I spent his last two days with him,” Carlos says, “and we had no idea.”
In the wake of Jean’s death, Carlos – along with his wife Toni and son Anthony – decided to do something. Something big.
“We never saw it happening to Jean,” Carlos says. “Me and my wife thought, we gotta find out what’s going on with these professional baseball players. All athletes. So we created a foundation, JR98, where we could get out and talk to kids, talk to players.”
“We go around and carry our message. We’re not professionals, but we can show athletes the perspective of parents, and listen to them. There are two types. In the majority of cases, you can tell; you have some idea. My son was one of the rare cases where you don’t. You can’t just make assumptions about anyone.”
During a spring training game in 2022, every Ray wore a jersey with Jean’s number 98. Throughout May of ‘22, Rays players wore “98” stickers on their batting helmets, along with green ribbons – the symbol for mental health awareness – on their chests.
The Rays have continued to work with the Ramirez family: the green ribbons are back this month, and Carlos threw out a ceremonial first pitch before a recent Rays-Pirates game (and when the Yankees visited the Rays, they sported the green ribbons on their road jerseys).
One month after Jean’s death last year, Carlos returned to his job as assistant coach at Hawai’i Pacific University. In his first game back, HPU’s Jack O’Brien threw a perfect game. After Hawai’i Pacific’s season, Ramirez headed to Port Angeles as an assistant; his son’s death had kept him from assuming skipper duties in Year 1.
In 2023, though, Carlos Ramirez is finally taking over as the Lefties’ head coach.
“In those camps in Hawai’i,” Lefties owner Matt Acker recalls, “Carlos was the one we all leaned on; he was the one we all looked up to. I’ve learned so much from him.”
Now it’s the Lefties players who can learn so much. Some of them will continue playing and coaching the game for many years, and they’re all likely to carry a lot of Carlos Ramirez in them. Along with the spirit of Jean Ramirez, too.
About the West Coast League: The West Coast League is the West’s premier summer collegiate baseball league. Encompassing Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, and now Alberta, the WCL showcases pro prospects from major collegiate conferences around the nation. Every summer, the league features unparalleled fan and player experiences, with North America’s best baseball weather and a mix of classic and modern ballparks, all backdropped by the sport’s most stunning scenery. The 2019 MLB amateur draft began with former Corvallis Knight Adley Rutschman selected with the overall No. 1 pick by the Baltimore Orioles, and the 2022 draft featured two West Coast League alumni, Brooks Lee and Gabriel Hughes, among the first 10 picks.