“I was walking in darkness away from the Lord in high school,” shares Neil Ramirez, relief pitcher for the Cleveland Indians, “but in 2010 while playing in low level minor league in Hickory, North Carolina, a new teammate helped me take the first step to a changed life.”
Neil Ramirez grew up in Virginia Beach, Virginia, with parents, Mike and Terry, an older brother, Phillip, and younger brother, Bryan. Neil’s family attended church on a not so regular basis; and once the boys started playing baseball on traveling teams, church took a backseat. When Neil started playing high school baseball, he was pretty good; and there were thoughts of a possible future in baseball. “I worked pretty hard at baseball,” comments Ramirez, “but I started hanging with some people who I thought had my best interest in mind. At the end of the day, we were doing things we should not be doing.” He continues, “I was so blessed and fortunate to be drafted in the first round (44th pick) in the June amateur draft and signed August 15, 2007. As I started my pro career, I continued to work hard. However, there was the other side to me, partying and doing the wrong things.”
In 2010, Neil was playing ball in Hickory, North Carolina, where his traveling teammate was a player named Robbie Ross, who became a close friend. “As soon as I met Robbie, I knew there was something different about him,” Neil comments, “he was very open about his Christian faith. Early in the season, he invited me to go to the Sunday chapel service before our game. We kept attending chapel services together the whole summer, and I began to feel the Holy Spirit touching my heart and feel the call of Christ talking to me, saying ‘I am real’ and ‘I want your life.’ I was overwhelmed by that. Later that summer, I gave my life to Christ. It has been a process ever since. Even after accepting Christ as my Savior, there was still the side of me that was rebelling that kept me from a total commitment to Jesus.”
“During that 2010 season, another roommate, Zach Zaneski, hooked me up with a blind date. Though we did not get a chance to communicate much in a movie theater, we did exchange phone numbers. Tiffany and I began dating, and the blessing for me was she is a Believer.”
Three years later, the final step to a total commitment to Jesus for Neil came at a Christian conference for professional baseball players held in Miami. “In 2013, Tiffany and I attended a conference called PAO (Pro Athletes Outreach). We were sponsored by a former teammate, Kyle McClellan, who went on to play for the Cardinals. We were around some amazing couples in baseball. The whole conference was so inspirational, along with wonderful speakers, the small group discussions, and the worship music. Our hearts were ready to make a total commitment to follow and serve Jesus. Tiffany and I were both baptized by Rev. David Platt at this conference. This commitment was my actual beginning to my walk with Christ.”
Sharing and witnessing one’s faith is an important element for the Christian. Ramirez tries to witness and serve his teammates in the clubhouse daily. “I believe the Lord places baseball players here, not only because of talent, but also to give players the opportunity to be an impact as a light for Jesus in the clubhouse,” says Neil. “Because we are watched closely by fans, it is also our duty as Christians to show people the love of Christ in everything we do on and off the field.”
Mission Trip to Haiti
Neil and Tiffany, during the off-season in 2014, had a huge opportunity to witness and serve through a mission trip to Haiti which had a real impact on their lives. Kyle McClellan had shared the story of an organization called Pittsburgh Kids Foundation, spearheaded by the Pittsburgh Pirates chaplain, Brad Henderson. McClellan had told Neil and Tiffany about the horrible situation in Haiti. Neil relates, “There are several orphanages in Haiti where the conditions were not pleasant. Chaplain Henderson had been going to Haiti for several years where volunteers went to try to improve conditions and to share Jesus by the help they gave.”
Over time, the area emphasized by the Foundation has gone from the worst to one of the best neighborhoods. There is a new
school, a new hospital, clean water and toilet facilities. Neil continues, “It was a real eye-opener, and it has really touched us. The Pittsburgh Kids Foundation is a huge part of our lives and ministry. We sponsor a child there that pays towards food, clothing, and schooling. The effort by the Foundation is to help kids grow up learning about Christ and to become leaders. This ministry and Haiti have led us to become more committed to Jesus in our lives and to serve others. Jesus came into this world to serve and not be served. Tiffany and I have stayed involved in this ministry.”
Kyle McClellan shares, “Neil and his wife, Tiffany have grown so much in their walk with the Lord. It has been so awesome to meet them as young adults and watch them grow into a couple that has a passion for the Lord. I knew my time after baseball was to mentor people like him, and it’s always great to see those stories turn out the way his has.”
Neil was going down the wrong path coming out of high school and early in his pro career, but the moment he gave his life to Christ, he “became a new creation.” He explains, “It is hard to put into words because now my whole motivation for living has completely changed. I want to live for Christ and to live to love others. It has gone from a self-centered ‘what can I do for me’ to ‘how can I sacrificially love others.’ It permeates every aspect of what I do.”
Christians are not immune to struggles. Neil is resistant to allowing baseball to define him. “Players want to compete and be really good in what we do,” shares Neil, “but players who are Christian should be thinking about glorifying the Lord, first and foremost. God should be our treasure and joy above this game. It is a struggle for all to stay grounded and centered in Him. We can use our platform to point others to Christ and not get caught up in our performance and temptations that come being in pro ball.” Neil continues, “Sometimes I get caught up in competing and the last couple years have been a struggle bouncing around so many teams. I have faith and trust the Lord has a plan. Even though I might be going through tough times, at the end of the day, it is about His glory and our sharing love with others.”
Former teammate, Ben Zobrist , shares, “Neil is a ‘salt of the earth’ kind of guy who is consistent and diligent in his relationship with the Lord and his family. We’ve had some good conversations about the Lord, and I always appreciate his positive and easy-going countenance.”
Neil and Tiffany bought a new home in Franklin, Tennessee, to be near the training center his agents built near Nashville. Now settled in their home, they have been able to plug into their new church home, the Church of the City in Franklin. They keep up with the church and its activities throughout the year online.
A Test of Faith
This off-season (2017) Neil and Tiffany went through a difficult personal experience. Neil shares, “Tiffany was pregnant with our first child. She had a miscarriage, and we lost our baby. It was a real test to our faith. We are amazed how God works things through our lives. This experience has helped us grow closer, and we have complete trust and faith God has a plan for our lives.”
Neil graduated from Kempsville High School (Virginia Beach, Virginia) and was named 2007 Gatorade Virginia Player of the Year his senior year. He was also selected to play in the 2006 AFLAC All-American high school baseball classic. Neil originally signed a letter of intent to play for Georgia Tech. However, he chose to sign a pro contract when he signed with the Texas Rangers. In 2013 Neil was traded to the Chicago Cubs where he was moved to the bullpen. He debuted on April 25, 2014, in Milwaukee. 2014 was an outstanding year for Neil. He pitched in 50 games and posted a 1.44 ERA, second best among rookie relievers with the least 50 appearances. In 2015 Neil sustained some injuries which started his move to several different teams until he landed with Cleveland this year (2018).
For the longest time Neil wanted to leave God out of the baseball part of his life. Presently, he has the verse Joshua 1:9 printed in his hat for his benefit. (Joshua 1:9: Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous, fear not, do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.) Neil states, “It is a reminder for me as I go out to compete God is with me when I’m on the mound. In my head I know God wants me to succeed, but that is not what it is about. It is about Him and His glory. He has given me a talent and the passion to play this game. Now before I start warming up, I look in my hat for this Scripture, and say to myself, ‘I am going to give it my all to the Lord.’ It has helped me to be at peace as I compete.” He continues, “I am completely forgiven and completely saved from eternal separation by the grace of God. I am a new creation and my sole reason for living is to show others the love of the Lord.”
**Update** Neil & Tiffany just found out on July 5th, 2018 that they are expecting a baby.
By Bruce A. Darnall, Lake Mills, WI
Photos by Dan Mendlik/Cleveland Indians