Expectations hadn’t been met. A change needed to be made.
“We basically told everybody, ‘If you don’t want to be a part of the turnaround, then that’s fine,’” Coach Mike Fox remembers. “’Just go ahead and tell us.’”
But Fox never needed to have this conversation with Tyler Ramirez.
For North Carolina’s junior outfielder, there’s more to life than baseball. There always has been. Sure, he came to UNC to play baseball — but not with the lofty aspirations of a heralded recruit, looking to use college as a springboard to the major leagues.
He arrived with the hopes of playing a few innings, with the ultimate goal of earning his degree.
“You’ve seen a bunch of stars come and go at Carolina,” says Dr. Ray Ramirez about his second-oldest son. “Tyler ain’t that kid.”
And he’s never been one to settle for anyone’s expectations of him.
Set on a college career
When Tyler turned 8, AAU teams started bugging Ray about letting him play. The hour-long drive between the Ramirez’s home in Suffolk, Va., and practices in Virginia Beach was a deterrent. But when Tyler turned 10, Ray gave in.
The father and son made the trip almost every afternoon. They talked about how their days went — Tyler was interested in following in Ray’s footsteps and becoming a doctor until he learned during a biology lab that blood grossed him out — and sang along to “Yeah!” by Usher.
And on one of these trips, Tyler, then in the ninth grade, asked if he could transfer to a new school.
Baseball season started in a week. But Tyler’s sights were set on a college career.
In less than six days, Tyler transferred to Cape Henry Collegiate in Virginia Beach, hoping to garner the attention of college programs.
“That was probably one of the best decisions I ever made in my life,” Tyler said.
Two years later, he was playing against his former school in the conference semifinals. UNC assistant coach Scott Jackson was in the stands.
Tyler was in talks with North Carolina. But he never thought anything would develop from those conversations until that day, when he hit a home run in an 11-1 victory.
Eight days later, after his team won in the state championship semifinals, Tyler and Ray drove to Chapel Hill. Fox offered Tyler a scholarship the next morning, and he committed on the spot before driving back to Virginia and winning the state championship that night.
Growing up, people who watched Tyler play baseball said he’d never reach the college ranks. They criticized him for his short stature, his lack of speed and being overweight.
And some of those questions still lingered entering his first season.
‘We need to play this kid’
When Tyler came to UNC, he weighed close to 197 pounds.
He had heard coaches previously say he wasn’t fast enough to play certain positions, but keeping his weight under control wasn’t something the 5-foot-9 outfielder had ever worried about.
The North Carolina coaching staff immediately took note.
“Coach (Scott) Forbes told him the first day he showed up for summer school, ‘We know you can hit, but you need to become an athlete,’” Ray said.
The message resonated with Tyler. He focused on slimming down in the fall, and when he returned home for Christmas break, he weighed 15 pounds less.
But dropping a couple of pounds wasn’t going to hand him a starting spot. The groundwork had been laid. Now, he needed to raise the frame.
An extra outfielder or maybe even a late-game pinch hitter, that’s what Tyler told his family his role would likely be when the season started. He never held himself to that, though.
Over the four-week break, he kept his weight in check and diligently worked with his high school hitting coach. And when spring practice started, he played so well Fox could no longer hold him out of the lineup.
“We were like, ‘We need to play this kid. He’s good enough to play at this level early,’” Fox said.
Fox penciled Ramirez in at the leadoff spot for UNC’s season opener against Charleston, marking the first of 113 starts in his first two seasons.
The player who was often overlooked upended the expectations set for him. But now, he’s trying to do the same with new ones.
‘We’ve got to get there first’
When 2015 ended, Tyler headed straight to the beach, hoping to get away from baseball for a short time before joining the Cape Cod League.
But that escape didn’t come without its reprieve.
Tyler and Ray watched a majority of the College World Series together, and the father often leaned over to his son and said, “Hey, that can be you.”
Tyler knew he could be there. Omaha is where the Tar Heels play.
“The last 15 years you just kind of expected to make the regional and make the playoffs,” Tyler said. “So now it’s more of a goal. We’ve got to get there first. We’re not automatically in the NCAA Tournament.”
Fox knew Tyler wanted to be a part of the solution. And through 38 games, he has been.
After posting a combined .286 batting average in his first two seasons at UNC, Tyler has posted a team-best .369 batting average entering tonight’s game against Wake Forest. He also leads the Tar Heels in home runs, RBIs, slugging percentage and on-base percentage.
MLB clubs have noticed Tyler’s success, their calls to him and Ray becoming more frequent with the First-Year Player Draft less than two months away.
Two years ago, the idea of Tyler playing professional baseball was just a thought in the back of Ray’s head. But even with that becoming more of a reality, Tyler’s goals haven’t changed.
“When Tyler went back in the fall or late summer, he said he didn’t care what happened to him personally,” Ray said. “He knew there were possibly going to be some other baseball avenues, but his main goal when he went back was, ‘I want to win baseball games and I want to get to the NCAA Tournament.’”