May 27—Anytime Roger Ward is in public, he’s often asked about one of his former players.
“Did you see this coming,” a person asked.
“No, I didn’t see it coming.” Ward answered.
But right here in our neck of the woods just several years ago, Northeastern Oklahoma A&M helped mold Ramon Laureano into the big armed, all-out hustling and slugging center fielder that he is today with the Oakland Athletics.
And Laureano had a unique journey before reaching stardom.
Ward and his coaching staff were actually on the hunt for a pitcher in 2012. Former NEO assistant coach Jon Ubbenga came across Laureano at a high school travel ball game in New York and was intrigued by the arm strength he showed on the mound.
The bonus was Laureano had some tools as a position player. Ubbenga watched him throw on the diamond, heard the ball sizzle off his bat and enough was enough.
“Jon called me back and said, ‘Whatever it is we need to take him,'” Ward said.
Laureano signed as a pitcher, with the chance he could get time in the NEO outfield. The comical part about that is Laureano finished his career as a Golden Norseman with only three appearances on the mound — all in 2013.
And he became quite the force with the bat.
Laureano hit .375 with seven home runs and 25 runs driven in as a freshman. He followed that up with a .429 average in his sophomore campaign while slugging 13 home runs and driving in 29.
“I knew when he came in the first two or three days, we had a pretty special hitter strength wise,” Ward said. “He was hitting balls to the trees with a wood bat. He was a good runner. What’s crazy about him is he really wasn’t a good outfielder. He played a lot more infield. He wasn’t very accurate with the arm, but he just played hard. Did I know he was going to be a major-league player? I don’t know. He was small, but wasn’t a great defensive player at the time.”
What’s allowed him to become a big-league mainstay in Oakland is his sheer dedication to his craft.
“He believed he could be a major leaguer,” Ward said. “He didn’t have a life. That guy spent time in the batting cage at 2 o’clock in the morning. I’d get up before practice and he would have an old trash can and he would throw the ball from the outfield to work on his accuracy. He’s the hardest working kid I’ve ever been around.”
Believe it or not, Laureano is now considered a premium defensive center fielder and went viral just eight days into his big league career. On August 11, 2018, he caught a Justin Upton line drive while on the run at the warning track in left-center, then turned and fired a perfectly placed throw to double up Eric Young at first base.
His throw traveled 321 feet, according to StatCast. There’s a reason why fans in Oakland call him “Laser Ramon.”
While his play is more controlled now, ferocity and hustle also define Laureano as a player. Ward remembers watching him when he was in the minor leagues with Double-A Corpus Christi against the Tulsa Drillers.
It was the bottom of the ninth and a ball was smashed into the right-center field gap. The hit went over the lower fence at ONEOK Field, along with Laureano too.
“He probably doesn’t have a chance to make the play,” Ward said. “He hits the top of the fence and flips over the fence, lands on the other side and disappears. He didn’t catch it, but jumped back over the fence and ran all the way in. A trainer never even talked to him.”
Ward said Laureano was always fun to be around because of his commitment to the game of baseball.
“When the team got punished, he was the first guy to go hard in the punishment even if he didn’t create the problem,” Ward said. “You can talk about his arm. You can talk about the bat. You can go talk about the defense. He’s making it because he’s mentally tough. He plays the game hard. He’s passionate. He loves his teammates and he loves the process.”
“He became a big time defensive outfielder. I thought that might have been the side of him that might have kept him from being a major-leaguer, but man, I’m wrong. I’m happy I’m wrong.”