Manny apologizes before 'showtime'

Updated: July 4, 2009, 2:35 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

SAN DIEGO -- Manny Ramirez returned to the big leagues as only he could.

Wearing sunglasses and with his famous dreadlocks in a ponytail, the Los Angeles Dodgers' slugger apologized to fans and teammates during a news conference Friday afternoon. He refused to answer questions about steroids, laying off them as if they were pitches in the dirt.

"I'm here. I'm excited. I can't wait to get into the field," Ramirez said as his 50-game suspension for violating baseball's drug policy ended.

Ramirez also brought along a new catch phrase.

"Showtime tonight!" he said as he walked out of his pregame news conference.

It was for the Dodgers, who jumped to a 5-0 first-inning lead, but not for Ramirez, who looked like a guy who hadn't faced big league pitching since May 6.

With his dreads flowing from under his batting helmet, he walked in his first at-bat, then was forced at second. Padres right-hander Chad Gaudin brushed back Ramirez with the first pitch of the seven-pitch at-bat. Ramirez just smiled.

It was a loud at-bat, with Dodgers fans standing and cheering, and Padres fans trying to drown them out with boos. The sold-out crowd at Petco Park looked and sounded more like it belonged at Dodger Stadium.

Ramirez popped up to end the sixth, jogged to the dugout to get his glove and cap, then headed for the clubhouse, his night finished. He was 0 for 3 with a walk.

He was cheered by a hundred or so fans as he bounded up the dugout steps and onto the field two hours before the first pitch. There was a playoff atmosphere during batting practice, with dozens of photographers following Ramirez and extra security on the field.

The specific violation by the 36-year-old Ramirez has not been announced, but testing by Major League Baseball showed that Ramirez had testosterone in his body that was not natural and came from an artificial source, two people with knowledge of the case have told ESPN's Mark Fainaru-Wada and T.J. Quinn. The sources said that in addition to the artificial testosterone, Ramirez was identified as using the female fertility drug human chorionic gonadotropin, or hCG.

HCG is popular among steroid users because it can mitigate the side effects of ending a cycle of the drugs.

"Well, I want to say I'm sorry to the fans, to my teammates that they're always there for me," Ramirez said. "I want to thank Frank McCourt for his support," he added, referring to the Dodgers' owner.

Asked what he was sorry for, he said: "Not being there for them. For not playing the game, because I'm a huge part of the Dodgers and I'm proud to wear that uniform. When I say I'm sorry, I let those fans down, that they go out there to see me."

Ramirez told ESPNdeportes.com's Enrique Rojas on Friday that his teammates welcomed him back "with open arms" and he "expect[s] forgiveness" from fans.

"I feel fine," Ramirez told ESPNdeportes.com's Rojas. "I'll need more time to regain my form, considering that I've been out of the game for two months. I just have to go out there, give my best, work on my timing and my overall skills."

Ramirez refused several times to talk about the reason for his suspension.

"First I want to say that God is good and good is God. I don't want to get into my medical records right now. I'm happy to be here. I missed the game. I'm ready to play. I was practicing in Triple-A and I can't wait to get into the field."

Ramirez indicated to ESPNdeportes.com's Rojas that he would also not discuss the details surrounding his suspension in the future.

"That's a thing of the past. My lawyer spoke to them [MLB officials], but I don't want to keep bringing the topic up every single day."

Ramirez seemed relaxed yet said he felt "a lot" of anxiety. "But I'm pretty sure I can handle it. This is not my first rodeo. So I know I'm going to be fine. I know I can play this game. I'm going to enjoy it the most I can."

He also admitted to being embarrassed by the whole episode.

"But we're humans. We learn from our mistake."

Teammate Andre Ethier was happy to see Ramirez back.

"It's nice. It's just a thing where I guess we got our team back to square one where we were when we started the year," Ethier said before the game. "We got a little sidetracked with him getting suspended. But we're ready to go and in the same place or even a little better position than when we lost him."

Ramirez was suspended on May 7, and the Dodgers lost 11-9 that night to the Washington Nationals, leaving them with a 5 1/2-game lead atop the NL West. They entered Friday night's game with a 7 1/2-game lead.

"I'm not mad anymore," Ethier said. "He made a mistake. It was his choice. I guess I'd be more mad if we were sitting 10 games under .500 right now after his suspension and weren't in a good spot. But we came back and played well and are able to be a better team because of him."

Manager Bud Black said the Padres will pitch to Ramirez as the game dictates. They certainly won't rely on how he did during a minor league rehab assignment.

"We did not log a call to Nick Schmidt to see what he hit," Black said, referring to the Padres farmhand who gave up a home run to Ramirez in his first at-bat on Sunday in a Class A game at Lake Elsinore.

"He hasn't seen major league pitching in a long time. But he's a Hall of Fame player, very talented player, one of the best right-handed hitters of all time. We don't know if we'll see something definitive in five or six pitches" in his first at-bat. "But he's still Manny, he's still a talented player."

Said Ethier: "You can't expect too much out of any player after that long, but someone of his caliber, he can surprise you with the way he's ready."

Dodgers manager Joe Torre and general manager Ned Colletti listened to Ramirez's news conference. Agent Scott Boras sat at the slugger's side.

"I think he's very uncomfortable at this," Torre said. "When you weed all through the whole thing, he didn't deny doing something wrong and he apologized for it and he doesn't really want to talk about it.

"I think it's going to be uncomfortable for him for a while," the manager added. "Baseball is a great place to go and try to bury yourself, basically, as far as concentration and trying not to be distracted. But I think it's going to be a little time before he gets his legs under him."

Torre said he's not sure if Ramirez will play in all three games of this series.

Despite speculation about what the slugger would do if he was voted by fans into the MLB All-Star Game, Ramirez said he would not go to St. Louis.

"No, and I thank every single fan out there who voted for me," Ramirez told ESPNdeportes.com's Rojas. "The All-Star Game is a celebration and my case was too bad for me to attend."

Information from ESPNdeportes.com's Enrique Rojas and the Associated Press contributed to this story.