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FSU's Ramsey up for challenge

Special photo James Ramsey bats during a game this season for the Palm Beach Cardinals, the high-Class A affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals.

Special photo James Ramsey bats during a game this season for the Palm Beach Cardinals, the high-Class A affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals.

The decision by James Ramsey to return to college for his senior year wasn't an easy one.

As much as Florida State meant to the Wesleyan graduate, playing professional baseball had always been his dream.

"I prayed and prayed about it," said Ramsey, who had been drafted by the Minnesota Twins in 2011

After weeks of soul searching, the center fielder felt led to return to Tallahassee.

"I had some unfinished business that I wanted to take care of, on and off the field," Ramsey said.

Mission accomplished.

Ramsey, an honor student and campus leader, earned a degree in finance and led the Seminoles to the College World Series while winning ACC player of the year and All-American honors.

In the process, the left-handed hitter also saw his status as a major league prospect skyrocket.

Not taken until the 22nd round in 2011, Ramsey was the 23rd overall pick by the St. Louis Cardinals this June.

"The whole year has been about Proverbs 19:21 'A man can play his course but the Lord determines his steps,'" Ramsey said after the draft. "I have really tried to trust upon that."

FSU didn't win the College World Series, finishing 2-2 in bracket play. But Ramsey the first player in Mike Martin long tenure as coach to have his captaincy marked by a "C" on his jersey had established a legacy.

Now, though, comes the reality of trying to work through the minor leagues toward the majors. Even for a first-round pick with All-American credentials, that can be a perilous task.

Ramsey, who received a bonus of $1.6 million from the Cardinals, had three hits in his July 2 debut with Palm Beach of the Florida State League. But he has had more downs than ups since while facing Class A Advanced pitching.

"There is joy for me in the challenge," Ramsey said. "I never thought it would be easy. My numbers aren't what I'm used to, but I'm not disappointed. I know it is a process. I'm learning every day. This is a tough league and I appreciate the opportunity to start off here."

Ramsey ended July on a strikeout binge with 17 in the final nine games, whiffing four times once and three times in another.

Contact hasn't been the problem in August, but the hits have been few and far between.

Ramsey was 5-for-37 in the first 11 games of the month before getting two hits against St. Lucie on Tuesday.

Ramsey's on-base percentage was .333 thanks to 21 walks in his first 39 games, but his batting average was .238. He had nine extra-base hits, 12 RBIs and was 10-for-10 in stolen bases attempts.

"The one frustrating thing is that I'm getting myself out more than I ever have," said Ramsey, who hit .378 while leading FSU to the ACC title. "I haven't felt overpowered. But there are a lot of more polished pitchers at this level and I'm helping them out right now."

Ramsey, though, has always been able to eventually rise to the occasion.

The one-time infielder was hardly a can't miss major league prospect coming out of high school despite helping lead School to the Class AA state title.

Ramsey started just nine games as a freshman at FSU and didn't really draw the attention of scouts until he hit .364 as a junior with the Seminoles. But he was in the spotlight all this spring after turning down the Twins and returning to school.

Ramsey matched what his father, Craig, had done in 1980 by captaining FSU to Omaha and he even drew comparisons to Tim Tebow along the way because of his leadership ability and strong Christian beliefs.

It's quite a contrast, though, from the fanfare of the College World Series to the semi-privacy of Roger Dean Stadium during the long Florida State League season.

"The lack of so much attention is a nice change," said Ramsey, whose lives with a couple of teammates only about a mile away from the ballpark in Jupiter, Fla.

Then there is the change of usually playing before less than 1,000 after being used to the packed houses at Dick Howser Stadium in Tallahassee and at Omaha.

"The atmoshere certainly isn't the same," Ramsey said. "I knew that would be the case. But you still have to be ready to play every game and go all out."

Unlike college, winning isn't the ultimate goal, either. The minors leagues are about player development.

"I'm used to everything being result-oriented," Ramsey said. "Here it is the process that counts. That's an adjustment. I have to remember not to get too caught up in one at-bat or one game."

Palm Beach has had just three scheduled days off since Ramsey joined the team.

"It has definitely been a grind," Ramsey said. "It is different getting used to playing every day. But it's fun any time you can be out on the field. It's a blessing to be playing baseball and getting a chance to work toward your goal."