Manny focusing on 'the present'

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- With an assembled media horde camped on the sidewalk just after sunrise, expectation was thick Wednesday morning at the Red Sox minor-league spring training complex.

Shortly after 8 a.m., outfielder Trot Nixon drove into the players' parking lot, rolled down his window and announced to the gaggle of TV cameramen, TV anchors, beat writers, columnists and radio reporters: "It's OK, guys ... I'm here ... I'm in camp."

It wasn't Nixon, of course, who was the subject of the stakeout but rather his fellow outfielder and teammate Manny Ramirez.

Eventually, at the stroke of 9 o'clock, Ramirez arrived in an SUV, too, accompanied by agents Greg Genske and Gene Mato. Emerging with blond dreadlocks and a Tim Brown Oakland Raiders jersey, Ramirez greeted longtime friend Enrique Wilson with a warm hug before disappearing into the building that houses the Red Sox clubhouse.

Most of his teammates were already on the field, and almost all of them had been in camp for at least a week. But after cutting his own side deal with the Red Sox, Ramirez was granted an extra week at home.

His teammates, noting his new do, asked if he had been hanging out with Ricky Williams. After taking a physical, Ramirez joined them on the field and took part in some cutoff drills in the outfield and eventually a few rounds of batting practice.

It was, after all the hype, as if he never left. And that, as much as anything, was the real story Wednesday. Ramirez didn't leave. After asking the Sox to accommodate his desire to be traded, the Red Sox tried but couldn't find a deal to their liking.

Interestingly, Ramirez and Genske seemed intent on making the point that they hadn't requested a deal in the first place, a significant stretching of the truth. In what were obviously well-rehearsed comments, Ramirez emphasized the future and played dodgeball with the recent past.

"Let me get this straight," said Ramirez. "I don't want no questions about trade rumors or the winter or this or that. If you want to talk about baseball or whatever, I'm open to talking. We can talk all day. I don't live in the past; I'm living in the present. And that's it. It's a new year.

"I'm here. People wanted me to come back and wanted me here, so I'm going to move on. I'm going to come and do my job. I get paid to play baseball and that's why I'm here," he said.

Added Genske later: "He's excited to be here and he's ready to put the offseason behind him and play baseball. At this time of year, there's no time for trade rumors or speculation."

Though Ramirez has repeatedly gone to management and asked to be traded, Genske insisted that his client was merely a bystander in the trade talks that have swirled around him for several seasons.

"In the last few years," said Genske, "the Red Sox have pursued trade [talks] just to see what's out there, and Manny has been willing to participate in those kind of talks and would be willing to keep an open mind and cooperate if the Red Sox decide they want to have trade discussions with other teams. But right now, the past is past, and as he said, he's focused on getting ready for the season."

Ramirez, who hired a new personal trainer to work with him this winter, proclaimed that he is "in the best shape of my life."

Confirming what was first reported a week ago, Ramirez said he would not be taking part in the World Baseball Classic.

"I'm not ready [for that level of competition]," he said. "I'm not going to go out there and make a fool of myself."

He maintained that he requested an extra week at home to continue his offseason training regimen.

"I didn't want to leave my workouts half-finished," he said.

At the end of last season, Ramirez told friends and teammates that he found the environment in Boston suffocating, one of several factors in requesting a deal.

But when asked if his feelings had changed about the city, he replied: "I ain't got no problems with Boston. I like the atmosphere. I know I'm one of the top guys in the game and there's a lot of people on my shoulders.

"I'm human. I like to go out and have a good time. But I have to represent Boston and the Red Sox in any way that I can outside the game. I look at Boston the same -- it's my job and I've got to perform. I get paid to play baseball, no matter where I am," he said.

Toward the end of his mini-news conference, Ramirez struck a more serious tone and spoke, indirectly, to his legacy.

"I want to get another thing straight -- I've got a beautiful career going on," he said, "and I'm not going to let little things like this mess up all those accomplishments. Because when I'm finished [with] my career, I'm going to be a special player and I'm not going to let nobody stop that."

It was a moment of reflection and self-awareness that Ramirez has seldom revealed. Maybe his hair is not the only thing that's different.

Sean McAdam of The Providence (R.I.) Journal covers baseball for ESPN.com.