Becoming a better Manny

Things have been working out for Ramírez in the offseason

Email|Print| Text size + By Stan Grossfeld
Globe Staff / February 9, 2008

TEMPE, Ariz. - It's 8 a.m., and Red Sox left fielder Manny Ramírez is already sweaty. He looks ripped and ready to defend the world championship.

He shouts, "Ohayo Gozaimasu" - Japanese for "good morning" - above the hip-hop music blaring in the Athletes' Performance weight room. He runs sprints and agility drills on the Arizona State football field and signals touchdowns. He fetches bottles of water for his workout mates, Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis and Minnesota Twins third baseman Nick Punto. He then does a lefty weight resistance exercise and announces he's going to bat lefthanded this year. He's only kidding.

When Youkilis is temporarily challenged by a 100-pound dumbbell, Ramírez stands over him and starts a "Youk" chant that would make a Fenway bleacherite proud. The football players training for the upcoming NFL Combine think he's crazy.

"Manny being Manny - I know what that means now," says Punto. "He's an intense workout partner. I think people perceive him the wrong way sometimes because this guy really loves the game. He loves everything that goes along with it. He's working out hard and he's going to be ready to play this season, for sure."

Things are good in Manny World. Since declaring himself a "bad man" at the World Series, Ramírez, 34, has announced his plans to report to spring training on time and to play for several more years. Ramírez allowed the Globe to follow his 2-hour-15-minute workout routine but politely declined to be interviewed.

"Take care of yourself," is his advice.

Darryl Eto, the performance specialist who is working five days a week with Ramírez, says hard work is the slugger's mantra. He even has Ramírez pulling a weighted sled, a throwback to the days when, as a teenager, he used to get up at 4:30 to run the steepest hills of New York City's Washington Heights pulling a car tire roped to his waist.

"The routine is some movement flexibility work, mobility work, stability work, general warm-ups, and then we go out on the field and do plyometric training and some jumps and then some running," Eto says. "Then back in the weight room, where he does his strength and development work. And then he finishes up with conditioning.

"I was pleasantly surprised how good of an athlete he is. I've talked to other coaches that have worked with him in the past and they've all said he's a great guy, he works really hard, and he's a great athlete, but until you've seen it, you always reserve judgment. He has been nothing but great to work with, phenomenal to work with."

Ramírez arrived here in December, having been introduced to the state-of-the-art gym by former Red Sox teammate Nomar Garciaparra.

"He wears the baggy uniform all the time and it doesn't appear that he looks like he's in very good shape, but he is in fact very muscular, very powerful, and actually very fast," says Eto.

"When he first came in, he said he wants to obviously get ready for the season. Some things have impeded him in the past - nagging injuries and things - and we tried to work on that, improving his flexibility and mobility and his stabilization. Work on incorporating some technical things on his running mechanics. Hopefully, we've done that. We'll see if it carries over to the field."

Ramírez is just 10 home runs shy of the 500 club, considered a benchmark for the Hall of Fame. A strained oblique hurt his numbers last year - he hit just 20 home runs and failed to drive in 100 runs - but he hit .348 in the postseason with four home runs. His eight-year, $160 million contract expires at the end of the 2008 season. The Red Sox have $20 million options for the '09 and '10 seasons.

But according to Eto, Ramírez isn't talking about money. "That never really came up," Eto says. "He's never said anything to me about that. He's just driven by being the best he can be. He's very internally motivated. In season, he goes to the gym to train in the mornings before he goes out to the field. He's been doing that, evidently, for years. We hope we can add to his legacy."

Ramírez isn't using the batting cages yet, but he is lifting barbells like a maniac and tossing them like Rambo, one of his nicknames.

"He's very strong and powerful. He was bench-pressing 110 pounds [in each hand] very easily," says Eto.

Ramírez's uncle Rico accompanies him to every workout, and serves as an extra assistant. He's the only guy who knows how to stuff Manny's dreads back into his kerchief.

"He certainly is quirky," says Eto with a laugh. "He has a childlike nature about him. Often times he'll give you a hug when you least expect it. He'll say something crazy funny. That's just Manny being Manny, I guess."

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