NASHUA -- The pressure of performing between the white lines is nothing compared to the real life battles Ariel Ramos endured in the military while fighting to survive outside the wire of his base camp.
After serving an eight-month tour of duty as a Marine in Afghanistan, even the roughest of outings on the mound by Daniel Webster College's senior pitcher from Lowell should be viewed as an enjoyable day at the ballpark.
Ramos, 25, was stationed in Afghanistan from March to October in 2011. He was a gunner on an all-terrain vehicle assigned to guard convoys that were the target of attacks.
Typically, Ramos was in the last vehicle of a convoy, providing security for the commander and fuel trucks. During one mission a truck exploded in front of his vehicle. He saw his share of combat and sustained a pair of very bad concussions.
Ramos, who played his high school ball at Greater Lowell Tech, was stripped of his innocence at far too young an age while serving his country on the front lines in a nation located far from home. But he never lost his love for our national pastime.
After three and a half years of full-time service in the Marines and a stint in the reserves, Ramos made the transition from combat veteran to Division 3 college baseball newcomer in the spring of 2013.
He was 4-1 with a 4.57 ERA in 10 appearances (9 starts) last season. This spring, Ramos, a 6-foot, 210-pound righthander, is 0-2 in six appearances (1 start).
"To make it home safe and get this chance to play at Daniel Webster is unbelievable," said Ramos. "I didn't have playing baseball on my mind when I got home. I had other things and family issues I was attending to. Baseball just came out of nowhere.
"After what I went through in Afghanistan, maybe it was my destiny to play again. I can tell you I cherish every single moment I'm on the field. I look forward to every game, every practice and every bus ride. I love being around my teammates, even if some of them are seven years younger than me and look at me like a grandfather. This experience is something I'll never forget."
His baseball experience helps Ramos smile through the pain of all that he experienced in Afghanistan.
"The baseball field has become my sanctuary," said Ramos. "To me there's nothing better than being on the mound pitching.
"Once I'm handed the ball, I never want to give it up until the game is over. It will always bother me to get lifted for another pitcher because I'm a competitor, but after Afghanistan I know this is just a game."
Ramos graduated from Greater Lowell Tech in 2006. He worked construction for a year before enrolling at Northern Essex Community College. He pitched on the Northern Essex baseball team in 2008 and threw a no-hitter. Ramos also spent time on Bunker Hill Community College's baseball team before being deployed.
After Bunker Hill his ties to baseball consisted of pickup softball games on base in Afghanistan and playing catch at Fort Devens upon his return to the U.S.
It was during his time at Fort Devens that Ramos got in touch with a former coach about possibly helping out with the Chelmsford Merchants. One thing led to another and he ended up pitching for the Merchants in the summer of 2012.
Ramos had enough velocity left in his right arm that the Merchants' coaches contacted former Daniel Webster head coach J.P. Pyne, who is now an assistant at UMaine, on his behalf. He enrolled in Daniel Webster last year and is majoring in homeland security. Ramos hopes to work for the FBI or DEA after getting his degree.
"He certainly has experienced more life lessons than your typical college baseball player," said first-year Daniel Webster head coach Nate Goulet, who was an assistant last season. "He doesn't open up too much about his experiences. I know he was a gunner on a vehicle and he was in the thick of things.
"When we were down in Florida last year he struggled in his first start. I was the bench coach and when he came back to the dugout I asked him how he felt out there? He said, 'Coach I was really nervous.' I said, 'You spent time in Afghanistan where you faced life and death situations. We're playing baseball in Florida. Go out there and have fun.' There's no sense in him ever being nervous about pitching in any baseball game after what he's been through."
Ramos rose to the rank of sergeant and served in the reserves until being honorably discharged earlier this year.
"I was in a leadership position at a young age," said Ramos. "I knew I couldn't show any sign of weakness in front of my subordinates.
"Whenever you went outside the wire you couldn't help but think is this going to be my last mission? Am I going to die today? Will my leg get blown off? You never showed any signs of fear because it would ruin morale. I had to stay positive so the men around me would stay positive."
Ramos, who is hoping to get another year of eligibility since his season at Bunker Hill was cut short, has certainly had a positive impact on Daniel Webster's baseball program. He can still throw in the low to mid-80s consistently, and has worked hard at becoming a well-rounded pitcher, rather than strictly relying on his fastball.
"The thing that makes him such a unique player is his work ethic and I'm sure he gets that from his family and his military background," said Goulet. "He pays attention to detail. He's accountable for his actions. And as a coach that's how I try to run my program. He's a just a great fit for what we're trying to do here.
"He's not a rah-rah guy. He leads by example. He's very well-respected on our team. How can you not respect him after what he's done? Our players look up to him. They notice how he conducts himself day-in and day-out."
Although he'd like to eventually get a shot at pitching at the professional level, Ramos has no idea what his baseball future holds. That's why he plans on making the most of every opportunity he gets to pitch at Daniel Webster.
"I'm willing to do whatever it takes to help the team," said Ramos. "I'm so thankful for getting the chance to play here. Everyone has made me feel at home.
"Some things I experienced will always stay with me. It's part of me. But baseball has helped me get past some things."
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