Ramirez arrives for spring training
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Manny Ramirez showed up for work Wednesday like other 9-to-5ers, an employee paid to do his job even if he might prefer to move to another company -- or team.
There were some glaring differences, though.
The Boston Red Sox left fielder arrived at spring training with his agents and others in a pair of luxury vehicles: one copper, one silver. He sported dark orange dreadlocks and was on the baseball field for only an hour. He showed up, with the team's approval, one day after the mandatory reporting date.
The slugger declined several opportunities to say he's happy to still be with the team after he asked to be traded following last season.
"I'm here. I'm here," Ramirez said when asked if he's happy to be with Boston.
He also said he wouldn't entertain questions about past trade rumors or play for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic this month.
"My main focus," he said, "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."
Ramirez isn't expected to play in Thursday night's exhibition opener against Minnesota, but manager Terry Francona didn't expect him to be out of the lineup for long.
Ramirez's agent, Greg Genske, made it clear his client might not exercise his 10-5 rights (10 years in the majors and five with the same team) to refuse a trade.
"I wouldn't say that," Genske said when asked if Ramirez has no intention of leaving the Red Sox. "I'd say he's kept an open mind."
Ramirez, who reportedly wanted more privacy than he has in Boston, said Wednesday he liked the attention.
"I get paid to play baseball and no (matter) where I go and play, I've still got to go and perform even if I like it or not," he said.
That wasn't exactly embracing his current team.
"I'm fine. I'm fine," he said. "I guess a lot of people want me to be back and that's why I'm here."
Ramirez is due to make $19 million in 2006, the sixth year of his eight-year, $160 million contract.
After the 2003 season, the Red Sox placed him on waivers in an effort to relieve themselves of his expensive contract but found no takers and tried to trade him for Alex Rodriguez. Last season, Ramirez took off the last two games before the trade deadline July 31 while the team explored possible deals.
During the offseason, the Red Sox talked with Baltimore and the New York Mets, among others, about trades involving Ramirez.
"I think Manny knows that we have made a good faith effort to meet his ... request," Jed Hoyer, co-general manager at the time, said on Jan. 12. "We haven't found a deal that works for us."
Genske wouldn't say directly that Ramirez had asked to be traded.
"I think it's been mischaracterized all along," he said. "Over the last few years it's a situation where the Red Sox have wanted to pursue trade alternatives just to kind of see what's out there, and Manny has always been willing to participate in those kind of talks and he'd be willing to keep an open mind and cooperate if the Red Sox decide that they want to have trade discussions."
The team gave Ramirez permission to report on March 1, six days after the first full-squad workout. Genske said Ramirez wasn't fined for reporting after Feb. 28. Ramirez said he didn't want to change his offseason training program by reporting for the first workout.
"I worked so hard in the winter and I wanted to finish," Ramirez said during a 6½-minute news conference before Wednesday's workout with the team. "I'm in the best shape of my life."
Last season Ramirez hit .292 with 45 homers and 144 RBIss. He led the AL with a .349 batting average in 2002 and with 43 homers in 2004.
"I thought it was a long shot he'd be traded," Francona said. "Regardless of what he says, when he gets in that batter's box, he's a force. ... He seemed happy to be out there again."
Players seemed tired of answering questions about Ramirez.
The usually amiable David Ortiz said he wouldn't answer any Wednesday.
Right fielder Trot Nixon, who talked with Ramirez in the outfield during drills, told reporters: "You guys are fishing for some serious information, aren't you? He's fine. He didn't make any errors in the outfield when he took his groundballs. He's glad to be back."
Nixon said he saw no change in Ramirez's behavior. Other teammates joked about his hairdo.
"He's been hanging around with Ricky Williams too much," pitcher David Wells joked.
Ramirez arrived in a No. 81 black-and-silver throwback jersey of former Oakland Raiders receiver Tim Brown at 9:01 a.m., one minute after the clubhouse was closed to reporters. One of the first players he greeted was non-roster infielder Enrique Wilson, his close friend.
Fans chanted Ramirez's first name when he left the clubhouse. He signed autographs on his way back.
But he refused to look far into the future and say he wanted to finish out his contract in Boston.
"I got a beautiful career going on and I'm not going to let little things like this mess (up) all the things that I accomplished," Ramirez said, "because I think when I finish my career I'm going to be a special player."
Wells, who underwent offseason knee surgery, said he felt good after throwing off a mound for the first time in spring training. He threw in the bullpen for about eight minutes. ... Keith Foulke, also coming back from knee surgery, also threw in the bullpen.
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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