- The Washington Times - Friday, July 17, 2009

LOS ANGELES | Mannywood’s star attraction was back Thursday night. Slugger Manny Ramirez played at Dodger Stadium for the first time since his 50-game suspension for violating baseball’s drug rules ended.

Fans greeted Ramirez’s first at-bat with hearty applause and chants of “Manny! Manny!” Batting third, he flied out to Houston right fielder Hunter Pence, who made a diving catch to end the inning.

Ramirez struck out swinging in the fourth inning.

Ramirez arrived about five hours before the team opened a 10-game homestand. He went through batting practice and fielding drills under a hot sun.

“I’m excited, man,” Ramirez said, his eyes hidden behind sunglasses and his dreadlocks secured by a bright green band. “This is the best fans in the world, and they’re behind me, so I’m looking forward for this game.”

Manager Joe Torre figured the fans would be in Ramirez’s corner because they attend games to enjoy themselves and forget about their problems.

“I don’t think any of us have lobbied for, ‘Let’s give him a rousing ovation,’ ” he said. “I’m sensing they’re going to embrace him again. What he did was wrong; certainly it’s something you don’t condone. The fans come out here to be entertained. They understand he did something wrong, and he paid his price.”

Torre was talking to reporters when Ramirez made his way through the horde to sit on top of the dugout bench next to Torre.

“Here goes all the attention I’m going to get,” Torre said jokingly.

Ramirez squeezed Torre’s left knee and said, “Hey, he’s the man.”

The easy rapport between star player and manager was apparent, with Ramirez asking Torre, “How many innings am I going to play today, Joe?”

Torre drew laughter when he replied, “You usually tell me that.”

Ramirez glanced toward left field and saw the “Mannywood” sign in front of the field level seats. Later, fans gathered in the first few rows to watch the Houston Astros take batting practice.

“I’m back, Part 2,” he said.

Asked whether his second act would be better than his first, he said, “Remember, you always leave the last part for the best. So that’s what we’re going to do.”

Ramirez returned to the lineup July 3 in San Diego during the team’s nine-game trip heading into the All-Star break. In his first nine games back, Ramirez batted .379 with 11 hits and three home runs.

The Dodgers went 29-21 in his absence and opened the second half with a seven-game lead on the San Francisco Giants in the NL West.

“Man, I don’t think they depend on me. Juan Pierre, he was doing a great job,” Ramirez said about his replacement in left field. “And [Andre] Ethier and Matt Kemp, they’re great players, so I think they deserve all the credit. I’m just out there doing my thing.”

As has been his habit, Ramirez didn’t get into specifics about his suspension.

“What can I do?” he said. “That’s in the past. I want to leave it in the past, and I just want to go enjoy.”

Ramirez’s ban was based on evidence that he used human chorionic gonadotropin, a fertility drug that’s banned by baseball. HCG is popular among steroid users because it can mitigate the side effects of ending a cycle of the drugs.

Torre said he didn’t think Ramirez would make that mistake again.

“I’m sure he didn’t like what this whole thing brought about,” he said. “In his mind, he didn’t do it intentionally. He didn’t deny what he did. I’m sure he’ll be a little more diligent on what he puts in his body again.”

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide