CHICAGO — Abby Ramirez's father, Ruben, believes his youngest child was destined for softball greatness since birth.
"She came out and she was a go-getter even when she was born," said Ruben, a Chicago Police officer, of Abby, a freshman infielder whose Michigan Wolverines are two wins away from a trip to the Women's College World Series.
"As a baby, she was always moving, always feisty," Ruben said. "Even coming out, she was healthy and full of energy. I really think that's what made her different, just from the beginning. She has fought all the way since birth."
Justin Breen chats about softball standout Abby Ramirez:
After beating host Arizona State twice Sunday to claim the regional title, Michigan (46-13) faces No. 8 Florida State (43-17) Thursday at 6 p.m. in Tallahassee in a best-of-three Super Regional. The victor advances to the World Series in Oklahoma City.
Ramirez, who was born July 25, 1995, said heading to the series has been a lifelong goal. It commenced when she was a 6-year-old competing for a Clear Ridge park district team at Hale Park near her family's Clearing home a few miles from Midway Airport.
"I've been dreaming about it since I was little, so this is awesome," Ramirez, who joins Georgia junior shortstop Paige Wilson as the only Chicago natives to reach the Division I Super Regionals, said from Tallahassee on Wednesday.
A year before Ramirez was on her first team, it was evident she would become a star, her father said. When he took his two other children, Mimi and Andrew, to a local park for a T-ball game, Ramirez, then 5, was too young to play but started crying until she was given a chance to whack the ball.
"And all of a sudden, she's hitting bombs off the tee, and we were like 'What do we have here?' and our jaws dropped," said Ruben, a De La Salle Institute graduate. "She was using her whole body and everything. The older players were scared, but she had no fear."
That attitude extended to her defensive play, Ruben said.
"I hate to compare her to a retriever dog, but when that ball went flying, she went after it full speed," Ruben said.
Ramirez graduated from St. Symphorosa School, 6125 S. Austin Ave., and followed sister Mimi to Trinity High School in suburban River Forest. Ruben said Ramirez "worships" her older sister, also a softball standout, and wanted to attend the same high school.
Abby was the Illinois Player of the Year as a senior at Trinity, where she was a switch hitter. She had an epic senior year campaign in which she batted .596 with an IHSA Class 4A-record 20 home runs, 60 runs scored and 20 stolen bases.
That complemented her play for the Beverly Bandits, an elite Illinois-based club outfit that has sent dozens of players to Division I programs.
Ramirez is hitting .295 as a Wolverines freshman. She's adjusted her style from a power to contact hitter and now bats only from the left side of the plate.
"It's definitely a different role," Ramirez said. "My part is to get on base, it's not to hit home runs. I feel like this year I've done what I could to help the team."
Ramirez, who primarily plays second base, recently was named to the All-Big Ten Defensive second team after committing only four errors with a .981 fielding percentage and 120 putouts this season.
"Abby has been a steadying presence in the middle of our infield and that was reflected in her selection to the All-Big Ten defensive team," Michigan head coach Carol Hutchins said. "From the time she stepped on campus, expectations have been high for Abby. She has responded to those expectations very well from day one."
Ruben and his wife, Lynn, attend many of Ramirez's games, but they won't be in Tallahassee for the Super Regional. But they have a good excuse as Mimi's Wisconsin-Whitewater squad qualified for the Division III national tournament that kicks off Thursday in Tyler, Texas.
"If we had a magic carpet, we'd be going to both," Ruben said.
Ramirez understands her parents' decision. Mimi is a senior, while Ramirez could find softball's promised land as many as four times in her collegiate career.
Being so close to her dream, Ramirez said, is "so motivating."
"I love softball, and loving it is what makes all the sacrifices worth it," she said.