ST. PETERSBURG There was this neat story a few years ago at Tropicana Field. One of the press box employees for the Rays, Bill Werts, was battling multiple sclerosis. It had gotten to the point where he needed a special van and wheelchair just to get around.
It was going to cost about $53,000. That’s where Gerry Ramsberger came in. He organized a drive to buy the van and chair for Bill and started by donating the salary he made as press box attendant at the Trop. The dollars started adding up, and before long Bill had his van.
I asked Gerry, who was 80 at the time, why he would go to such lengths, even though we all knew what an utterly decent man he was. I remember he just smiled and said, “The game of life isn’t like chess, tennis or baseball. There doesn’t have to be a loser.”
Then he lowered his voice and added, “You know, I’m getting to the point where I need to worry about getting into heaven.”
There was nothing to worry about.
We gathered Wednesday afternoon back in the press box at the Trop to formally say goodbye to Gerry. He died last week at 88 after living the kind of life that should be made into a movie.
He enlisted in the U.S. Army when he was 18 and became an engineer. He came ashore at Utah Beach in the Normandy invasion. He was awarded all five European battle stars.
He played football at Notre Dame, where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
He coached baseball and football at Boca Ciega and Northeast high schools. Recently, the baseball fields at Boca Ciega were renamed in his honor. He taught political science at St. Petersburg Junior College. He was married 53 years to his childhood sweetheart until her death in 2000.
He worked with at-risk kids. He helped raise three daughters and three sons. Two of his sons became circuit judges in Pinellas County, while his other son is general manager of the Honda Grand Prix race through St. Petersburg.
By now, you have figured out this was no ordinary guy.
Lots of people do great things, though. What set Gerry apart was the smile, although he could get cranky if someone tried to get a hot dog off the grill at the back of the press box before it was ready.
This man of distinction must have made thousands of hot dogs during his time with the Rays, along with fetching statistics for writers and other tasks.
He did it just for giggles, I think. He liked staying busy and loved baseball.
Even though he would bark every now and then at the miscreants who couldn’t wait on hot dogs, this was a gentle soul. He was never focused on himself. If he was talking with you (not to you), it was because he was really interested in what you had to say.
He hadn’t been around the press box much in recent years as his health declined, but I was lucky enough to see him at the end of the last Rays season. His body was frail, but he still had a 1,000-watt smile.
I’m sure it’s the first thing St. Peter saw when Gerry arrived at heaven’s gate, right before he told Gerry, “Come right on in.”