The first time Emeterio Ramirez picked up a baseball a little over three years ago, he had absolutely no idea how to even throw or catch.
“I had never picked up a baseball before,” he said. “One of the first practices I was throwing with my teammate, and I didn’t know how to catch. When he threw it to me, it hit me in the mouth. I thought to myself that I didn’t think this was for me.”
Emeterio joined the Howard High School baseball team as a freshman.
He had never played a sport before, and knew nothing about the game of baseball.
Two years later, he was the starting catcher for the Hustlin’ Tigers as a junior. At the end of the season, he was named to the All-District team, a moment he said he’ll never forget.
“When I was named All-District, it just felt good, like a really big accomplishment, especially for me since I had never played a sport before. I didn’t even know how to pick up a ball when I started, but I worked hard to make myself better, and I felt like that award made it worth it.”
“I’ve never had a kid in my 11 years of coaching work as hard as Emeterio has,” said Howard baseball coach Jon Johnson. “Baseball is his everything, and since he just began playing a few years ago his trajectory is just starting. I remember him helping me put the plate in when we originally built the field, not knowing that a few years later he was going to be an All-District catcher behind that very plate.”
Emeterio’s family moved from Oakland, California to Chattanooga when he was three years old to get away from the gangs and violence there. After a few years, he moved again to Guatemala with his mom, where he spent four years, while his father stayed here to work.
He returned in the sixth grade, but it wasn’t until he got to high school at Howard that he was introduced to his first real love.
“My middle school years weren’t very good,” he admitted. “So I told myself when I got to high school that I had to find something to do with my life and become somebody. One of my friends told me I should play baseball with him because they didn’t have enough players to have a team. I didn’t really even know what baseball was.”
“He told me they didn’t even have a field. I asked him, ‘How do you want me to play baseball when you don’t even have a field?’ That’s when he introduced me to Coach Johnson, who told me we were going to have to build the field. I said as long as I get to play baseball, that’s all that matters because my friends had already dragged me into this, so now I want to be involved.”
To say he got involved would be an understatement, showing up nearly every day to help Johnson and his new teammates build the field. But when practices started, Emeterio found out that it would require even more dedication to succeed. That’s when he started setting goals for himself.
“Coach put me in right field, and I kept missing every ball, which made me frustrated,” Emeterio said. “So I started setting a goal for myself that every practice I had to catch at least a ball or two, and I would keep count in my head each practice.”
“His freshman year, he was one of the kids I took home everyday after practice, and I remember asking him what kept him coming back,” Johnson said. “He told me, ‘Well coach, I have a goal every single day.’ I asked him what he meant by that. He told me that every day he set a goal to increase the number of fly balls he was going to catch. That day it was five, and he caught six. I’m talking about hundreds of fly balls I’m shooting at this kid.”
“Two weeks later I’m taking him home and I asked him what his goal was. He told me it was 20 fly balls. I asked him if he got it, and he told me he had. A few weeks later when I asked him, he said, ‘Coach, I quit counting because I’m catching so many now.’ I never told him to set a goal; that’s just something internally that he did for himself because he wanted to get better.”
When Emeterio found out that he was going move to catcher, he said he really didn’t know what that was.
“I had no idea how to play catcher. (Coach Johnson) put a pitching machine about ten feet away just feeding me balls, and I was really scared. But I kept working hard, and caught that whole year. That’s when I really fell in love with the sport.”
While he became enamored with baseball, Emeterio found an added benefit: the positive effect playing the game had on his role as a student.
“In middle school, I wasn’t one of the best students, so playing baseball kept me out of trouble and kept me focused in class and off-campus. If it wasn’t for that, I really don’t know what I would be doing, to be honest. I probably wouldn’t be in school right now.”
“Baseball and Coach Johnson have helped me to become the man I am today.”
Hard work is in Emeterio’s DNA. He credits his father and maternal grandfather with his work ethic, and said he wants to someday be able to pour that back into his family’s native country.
“In Guatemala there’s so much poverty, and you just have to work with what you’ve got. I want to go back to Guatemala and give back because I’ve seen what it’s like and I still remember everything. Many people there have been through a lot and don’t have enough help from role models.”
While he loves the game, Emeterio said his favorite part of being a Hustlin’ Tiger has been the relationships he’s built.
“We’re not just teammates, we’ve become family. Whenever I need something, my team is right there. I’ve especially enjoyed the work days that we’ve had. One time, my friend Tony was trying to dig up dirt on the field with one of the machines. He said, ‘I’m tough enough to work with this.’ Then as soon as he turned it on, that machine just took off on him. That was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.”
Emeterio hopes to continue his baseball career at the college level, but the possibility of losing his senior season to the current stoppage in play due to the COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult for college scouts to know who he is and how much he could help their program, particularly since his rise in baseball has been so recent.
Still, his dreams are alive, and he said he would do whatever it takes to make them happen.
“My dream is to play college baseball, and even to make it to the big leagues. I had always hoped to get a scholarship to play in college, but even if that doesn’t happen I would go somewhere to play for a couple of years (as a walk-on) and also go to school. Baseball is my favorite thing. I’d rather be at the field, just to be there, because I’ve really just fallen in love with the game.”
“It’s like I’m married to the game; I just can’t go without it.”
The heartbreak and devastation in his voice was apparent as he talked about losing the ability to play and be on the field with his brothers during his final prep season. He went 6-for-8 with a couple of extra-base hits to the fence in Howard’s double-header sweep of Brainerd in the only two games they were able to play before the season was halted.
“It’s so frustrating to me because I’ve worked so hard to try to become one of the best players in the city. Especially with this being my senior year, it’s just so disappointing. But I have to eat it up, and just keep moving. Now I want to keep playing in college because I don’t want to let my talents and all of the hard work go to waste.”
Reflecting on his prep career and the growth that he’s worked hard to achieve, Emeterio had an inspiring message to those that come behind him that it isn’t all about where you start, but where you finish.
“You have to believe in yourselves, because everything is a process. It’s not going to happen overnight. The more you come to practice, the more you come to meetings, the more you’re involved with the game, the better you’re going to get.”
“Just keep working hard, don’t give up, and believe in yourself; that’s all that matters. Don’t ever think that you’re not enough, because you are enough.”
And if anyone ever has difficulty believing that to be true, they don’t have to look any further than the author of those words, who transformed himself from a young man who just wanted to be a part of something to one of the top players in the area because he wouldn’t let himself believe in the possibility of anything less.
(E-mail Kevin Llewallyn at email@example.com.)