Ranch owner Ramirez raring to get started

Ranch owner Ramirez raring to get started

JUPITER, Fla. -- Hanley Ramirez wears many hats these days. One of them is even a cowboy hat.

A two-time All-Star and the face of the franchise, Ramirez is the first player in club history to win a batting title. The 26-year-old shortstop has also become one of the best players in baseball. In 2009, he finished second to Albert Pujols in the National League MVP Award voting, the highest finish by a Marlin.

On the field, his stature puts him in the public eye. Away from the game, he likes to escape the commotion at a new hideaway.

About 35 minutes from his home in the Dominican Republic, Ramirez is building a ranch that will have all of the trappings of a deluxe resort, complete with a large swimming pool and a hot tub.

"It's for a vacation," said Ramirez of his retreat, about 35 minutes from his Santo Domingo home. "It's got everything -- chickens, goats, cows."

Ramirez even has a brown cowboy hat. For now, at least, he is staying away from wearing cowboy boots, but he did sit atop a horse in the offseason while it was standing still. That's as far as it went for him, because rather than ride the horse, he got nervous and hopped off.

Ramirez has given the ranch his nickname, "H2R," which also is on his license plate. In a couple of years, he says, he will make the ranch his full-time home.

"It's not done yet," he said.

The Marlins opened Spring Training camp on Saturday, and full-squad workouts begin on Wednesday. Ramirez arrived a day early, eager to help take his team to the next level.

In the second year of a six-year, $70 million contract, Ramirez is one of the most dominant players in the game. He comes off a season where he paced the NL with a .342 batting average. He added 24 home runs, 106 RBIs and 101 runs scored.

"I don't think there is anything he can't do on a baseball field," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "He went from 22 errors [in 2008] to 10 [in '09]. He's only 26. He just keeps maturing as a player."

Ramirez is also generous, giving the bonus he received for the team's second-place finish ($10,424) to closer -- and close friend -- Leo Nunez.

Not only did Ramirez win the NL batting title last season, he captured his second consecutive NL Silver Slugger Award. If he repeats as batting champ, he will be the first player in the NL to do so since Larry Walker in 1998 and '99.

Minnesota catcher Joe Mauer has won two consecutive batting crowns. In 2009, the Twins' catcher hit .365, and if not for a late-season slump, Ramirez may have challenged Mauer for the Majors' best batting average. For a while, he was close. On Sept. 13, Ramirez was hitting .361.

From that point, though, he went into a slide and finished the year at a 12-for-64 (.188) clip.

"I want to be more consistent. I could have hit .370, but the last [stretch hurt]," Ramirez said.

"Last year, it's in the past. Last year, it was a little bit of a struggle at the end. It's a new year. My legs, they're going to be stronger. I got scared with my hamstring. I woke up one morning and decided to train my legs."

Admittedly, he felt his body wear down in the final weeks of the 2009 season after being hindered for parts of the year by hamstring and quad issues. In all, he appeared in 151 games, his lowest total since joining the Marlins in 2006.

An objective during the offseason was to strengthen his legs. He did so in the Dominican Republic, training Monday through Friday and spending his weekends at the H2R ranch.

"I did more working out of my lower body," he said. "I think I'm going to need it for the end of the year. I wanted to add something new. I was kind of running out of gas a little bit at the end of the year. I was telling myself that I have to do something to help my lower body."

In addition to the strength training, Ramirez did a lot of agility drills.

"Everything you need to make your lower body stronger," he said. "When you are running out of gas, you feel like you're running out of power in your lower body. As a player, you need your lower body to do everything. To pitch. To play defense. To run. Everything.

"I haven't run lately. I feel a little bit heavier, but it's just the beginning. By Opening Day, I'll be ready to go."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.