Energized Ramírez reports for duty
After an offseason filled with trade talk, Manny Ramírez is ready to play ball. I aint got no problem with Boston. (Globe Staff Photo / Barry Chin)
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It is the Manny that has been seen from time to time. The fun-loving, smiling, kidding and joking-around Manny. The happy-to-be-here, ready-to-play baseball Manny. The in-shape, hard-working, good teammate Manny.
How long it lasts is anyone's guess.
Manny Ramírez was sporting dreadlocks and a Tim Brown No. 81 Raiders jersey and looked trim and strong after completing his workout program near his Miami home.
He came to spring training camp via a two-car entourage, sitting in the back of a copper-colored Cadillac Escalade joined by agents and friends. They marched into the minor-league complex one minute after the clubhouse had been closed to the media.
Ramírez then agreed to speak to the media.
Jon Miller of WBZ had been staked out since 5:15 a.m. and there were approximately 25 reporters and seven cameras on the scene. Three New York newspapers were represented.
Ramírez spoke. His agent, Greg Genske, spoke. There were no promises made. No talk of Ramírez remaining a Red Sox. The only news was that Ramírez will not play for Team Dominican in the World Baseball Classic, and will remain with the Red Sox for the remainder of spring training.
Ramírez said he was not going to discuss trade rumors or trade demands. He said he was moving forward. At one point, his old buddy, Julián Tavárez, a former teammate in Cleveland, came by with a bottle of water.
The modest crowd applauded Ramírez upon first view. They cheered him as he finally emerged out of the clubhouse just after 10 a.m. dressed in his No. 24 red jersey and oversized pants. Photographers chased behind him as he ran onto Field 1 to start his warmups. He long-tossed with minor league instructor Victor Rodriguez for about five minutes before he changed fields and started batting practice.
Ramírez hit the ball well, spraying it to all fields.
Sox general manager Theo Epstein was not present because he was in a meeting. Manager Terry Francona didn't have a chance to speak with Ramírez before he took the field.
''It's not important for me to have a sitdown," Francona said. ''When we're ready to get him in games, we'll get him in games. I really don't [have a timetable]. I don't want to get him out there before he's ready. He was already out there practicing his relays, so I can't imagine he'd be too far off. I don't know about his hair, but he looks like he's in great shape. I heard he was in good shape. I didn't doubt that. He works hard. He's at the ballpark early and he's always working hard."
Ramírez teammates greeted him and kidded him about his haircut.
''Seems like Manny has been hanging out with [Dolphins running back] Ricky Williams," David Ortiz said. Later Ortiz said, ''No Manny questions."
''Good to see him," Trot Nixon said.
If there was a winter of discontent, it wasn't evident in the face Ramírez put on yesterday.
''I ain't got no problem with Boston," Ramírez said. ''I especially like the attention. I know that I'm one of the top guys in this game and the attention is on me. I got a lot of people on my shoulders, but I'm human. I like to have fun.
''You know, I got a beautiful career going and I'm not going to let little things like this mess up all the things I've accomplished. I think when I finish my career I'm going to be a special player and I'm not going to let anybody stop that. That's me. I've got a goal for myself and I'm going to accomplish that."
Just how long Ramírez's career will last is subject to debate.
His agent says he's taking Ramirez's contract one year at a time, but Ramírez told this reporter last season he will retire after his Red Sox deal is up (in 2008, though the Sox have options in 2009 and 2010) and live happily ever after in the Dominican Republic.
But for now, Ramírez's focus has been on his workouts, which have included drills for balance and agility. He's thinner and said he spent time trying to strengthen his hamstrings, which have been a problem throughout his career.
Ramírez even resisted the temptation to play in the World Baseball Classic.
''Nah, I'm not playing," he said. ''My main focus is getting prepared for the season to help Boston win. I'm not ready so I'm not going to go out there and make a fool of myself."
The Sox wanted to make the best of a tough situation this winter with Ramírez's trade demand. They were not going to give him away, and never received a firm offer.
So once Ramírez got on board, the Sox tried to make things as comfortable as they could. They signed free agent infielder Enrique Wilson, one of Ramírez' closest friends, although it will be tough for Wilson to make the team. The Sox also signed Tavárez as bullpen help.
Two noticeable losses are Johnny Damon and Kevin Millar, both of whom had a calming effect on Ramírez over the years.
While lamenting those losses, Ramírez said about his current teammates, ''They're excited about me coming back, being the same guy, always being happy and always having fun."
Getting Ramírez in camp is Step 1. He was true to his word. According to Sox officials, Ramírez called the day before to say he was reporting. He reported in time for his workout. No fines for being late. He went through his drills, looked in shape. And the fans love him.
''I'm back, man," said Ramírez.
''I'm here. I'm here."
While that was not the most resounding sign of happiness, it was an acknowledgement that whatever has happened is in the past, even if it's temporary.
Right now, the Red Sox will take that.