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Hard knocks dont strike out pitcher

Rob Ramsay dreams of Beavers in San Diego

PEORIA, Ariz. Ñ He isn't sure for whom he will be pitching this season, but that's only a small part of the story. Barring a setback, Rob Ramsay will be pitching in the San Diego Padres' organization. That's about as big a story as it gets.

'I just feel blessed to be where I am,' Ramsay says, dressing in the minor-league locker room at the Padres' spring training facility. 'I thank God I am able to be here and pull on this uniform.'

Ramsay, 29, has had his world rocked in the last 14 months. In January 2002 and again in November, the graduate of Mountain View High in Vancouver, Wash., underwent brain surgery Ñ first to remove a cancerous tumor, the second to remove a blood clot.

Experts say most people diagnosed with Ramsay's form of brain cancer, glioblastoma multiforme, die within a year.

Ramsay knows his affliction can still be fatal, but he has been both courageous and effective in attacking it thus far.

'I am constantly fighting it,' he says. 'You don't know for sure when it will be gone. I just try to stay positive and do everything the doctors say.'

The 6-5 left-hander lost weight during his illness but has regained it, returning to his playing weight of 230 pounds.

The scar from his first surgery Ñ ear to ear across the top of his head Ñ is startling, but he is no longer self-conscious about it.

And he is pitching. If he doesn't begin the season on the disabled list, Ramsay probably will start the season with the Triple-A Portland Beavers. That would put him close to his parents, Don Ramsay and Mary Freeman, who live in Camas, Wash.

'I am guessing and hoping it will be Portland,' says Ramsay, who was assigned to the Padres' minor-league camp March 10. 'It would be nice to stay with my folks for a little while. It would make things a little easier.'

In two appearances with the Padres this spring, Ramsay was impressive. Wearing a protective helmetlike hard hat Ñ 'It felt funny at first, but I'm used to it now' Ñ he had an 0.00 ERA through 1 2/3 hitless innings.

Against San Francisco, he got three outs on five pitches. The next outing, Anaheim got an unearned run after an error, 'but I walked a guy and hit another,' Ramsay says. 'Get those two out and I don't have to worry about anything.'

Still, Ramsay isn't fretting. His fastball, which topped out at 92 mph before he became ill, is in the mid-80s. But he understands it isn't going to happen all at once.

'I am making progress each day, trying to get my stamina back,' he says. 'It is a little less than what it was before, but that is to be expected. At this point, I am where I should be.'

After signing out of Washington State in 1996, Ramsay moved rapidly up the Seattle system and spent most of the 2000 season pitching out of the Mariners' bullpen, with a 1-1 record and a 3.40 ERA in 37 appearances. He pitched the entire 2001 season with Triple-A Tacoma, going 11-11 in 26 starts.

Then came the headaches, and the visit to medical specialists. Ramsay's world would never be the same.

But he is dealing with it just fine, thanks in no small part to his wife of 2 1Ú2 years, Samantha.

'She is a dietician, so she knows a little too much about what good food is,' Ramsay says, chuckling. 'Her thing is to do a diet that is low in sugars and saturated fats Ñ no burgers, fries and that kind of stuff. I have sloughed off here and there, but I am doing pretty well.

'She takes care of all the doctors' appointments. 'You have to be here, here and here. You have to eat this, and you can't eat that.' She has been amazing support.'

Ramsay continues to have chemotherapy once every six weeks and will until doctors say treatments can stop.

Beaver Manager Rick Sweet says he was startled to see Ramsay report for workouts the day following a chemo treatment.

'A lot of our players didn't know what was up when we opened camp,' Sweet says. 'All they knew was he had a huge scar on his head and wore a hard hat all the time.'

San Diego GM Kevin Towers says he is thrilled to have Ramsay in camp.

'He has been such an inspiration to our players,' Towers says. 'If he is ready to throw, I would pencil him in to start the season in Portland. But I told him a good goal is to be in San Diego by the end of September.'