The days of being a sleek center fielder are long gone for Ralph Ramirez. No more dashing into the gap to spear line drives or slamming into fences in quest of fly balls.
Instead, the Orange Coast College sophomore has been limited to the confines of third base this season. These days, he gets more exercise on his short jogs to and from the dugout than he does on the field.
Ramirez's outfield career fell victim to some late-night meals and an off-season weightlifting program that resulted in a 20-pound addition to his 6-foot 1-inch, now 180-pound frame.
"I've gained 20 pounds and lost my speed," Ramirez said. "At third base, you just have to be quick at moving your feet. I don't really have to run as far, so I'm sure I can get the job done there. . . . It's a new position, and I just have to make some adjustments."
The added strength has transformed Ramirez from a singles hitter to a power hitter. Last season's fly balls are now doubles and home runs.
Ramirez, a first-team All-Orange Empire Conference selection this season, is hitting .383 with 8 home runs and 46 RBIs for the Pirates, who enter Southern California Regional play today at 2 p.m. as hosts to Oxnard.
The teams continue the best-of-three series Sunday at 11 a.m. If necessary, a third game will follow immediately. The winner of the regional will advance to the state tournament next weekend at San Jose.
Last season, batting sixth or seventh in the lineup, Ramirez hit .305 with 3 home runs and 22 RBIs and was a second-team All-South Coast Conference selection.
"He's gone from an alley hitter to a home-run hitter with the added strength," said Mike Mayne, Pirate coach.
This season, Mayne was going bat Ramirez second but moved him to cleanup when center fielder J.J. Culpepper injured his wrist in January. When Culpepper returned to the lineup in March, Ramirez remained in the No. 4 spot.
That's a good spot in the OCC lineup, which has a school-record 45 home runs this season. Opponents can't pitch around him.
In front of Ramirez is first baseman Rex Peters, who is hitting .373 with 2 home runs and 40 RBIs. Behind him are two returning all-state players--left fielder Joey James and designated hitter Dave Staton.
James is batting .361 with 14 home runs and 57 RBIs, and Staton is hitting .342 with 10 home runs and 45 RBIs.
"I feel really comfortable batting in the middle of those guys," Ramirez said. "If I get on base, I feel they'll hit me in. They (James and Staton) are the two main guys in the conference and are always being talked about. Maybe that's one reason Coach Mayne put me there. With Rex Peters hitting third, me fourth, Joey James fifth and Dave Staton sixth, we're going to produce."
Ramirez has had great success hitting this season, but fielding a new position has given him some trouble. He was an infielder in youth baseball but was an outfielder for most of his two-year varsity career at Los Amigos High School. He played shortstop part of his senior season and hit .520 with seven home runs.
"It's even tougher in community college ball because the ball is put into play so much and it's pulled a lot," Mayne said about Ramirez's adjustment. "It's the true definition of the hot corner.
"The things that would give any third baseman problems are the things that give him trouble, like coming in on the slow rollers and communicating with the pitcher on bunts. He has a little trouble going to his right, which is pretty common. But he's a really good athlete. . . . It's just a matter of time."