FROM SAN DIEGO — The most interesting story line to this baseball season, beyond whether the Dodgers win the World Series in five or six games, will be whether other teams had Manny Ramirez pegged correctly.
The Dodgers didn't need Ramirez to beat San Diego on Monday in the 2009 opener, but then an undefeated season would be within reach if allowed to play the minor league team that now resides here wearing Padres uniforms.
Based on last season, when finally forced to play big leaguers, the Dodgers are going to need Ramirez to do something special, a number of baseball insiders already disappointed by what they have seen.
They figured he would report to spring training unhappy after failing to win a long-term deal. Yet, he remained the life of the clubhouse.
When he injured a hamstring early on, many of these experts implied he was just up to his old, take-some-time-off tricks. He finished spring training hitting .458, asking to play more.
Foxsports.com's Ken Rosenthal, offering some predictions the other day and writing what most folks in baseball pretty much expect, guesses, "Manny Ramirez will be a pain in the rear," and hurt the Dodgers this season.
It's the reason why Ramirez remained available this off-season -- everyone expecting the worst out of the guy and scared off. Those who passed on him have to be hoping he falls flat and disappoints so they can tell their fans they had it figured right all along.
That's what makes the Dodgers a must-see team this season -- at the very least all eyes on Ramirez waiting for him to mess up.
As Rosenthal put it, the "relationship between Ramirez and Los Angeles is sickeningly sweet," a relationship that annoys those who supposedly know the real Ramirez.
Rosenthal also referred to Page 2 as Ramirez's "personal Oprah." As you know, that's not true, given the one obvious difference between Page 2 and Oprah -- she's rich.
Hard to find fault, though, with the guy we've gotten in L.A. so far -- Ramirez doing and saying all the right things, the Dodgers relevant again and other players seemingly improved because he's here in the lineup and the clubhouse.
When he returned to the Dodgers he donated $1 million to the charity of the Dodgers' choice, and before Monday's game he indicated he would like to do more.
He says he will contribute $1,000 for every home run, $500 for each RBI, $100 for each hit or walk and $500 in the event he ever triples to a charity in Greater L.A. once he's had time this weekend to select one.
"This worm will turn," though, is how Rosenthal puts it in his report for Fox Sports. "His attention span is about as long as L.A.'s."
Rosenthal predicts something like "an innocent little sit-down strike" at some point for Ramirez and puts the over and under on the games an unhappy Ramirez plays at 128.
So what does Ramirez say?
"That's a lot of games -- 128," he says with a laugh. "I wasn't thinking about playing that many; I was thinking 100. I thank him [for the motivation to play more]."
Ramirez hasn't played in fewer than 130 games since 2002, has averaged 145 games per season over the last six, and foresees no problem playing just as many.
"I'm just a table-setter now," he says, joking that he won't be doing as much and everyone should be talking to Andre Ethier because he's the one who will be driving in all the runs.
Ramirez went 0 for 3 in the opener but walked and advanced to second when Jake Peavy threw wildly trying to pick him off. For two years now, Ramirez has talked about stealing bases for the Dodgers, Peavy the only one apparently taking him seriously.
"He didn't get a hit today," Manager Joe Torre says, "but I still believe his presence out there was important to us."
Ramirez scored a short time later on a single by Ethier.
Torre was telling everyone before the game that Ramirez is one of the five or so best hitters he's ever seen, and yet no one beyond the Dodgers seemed all that interested in adding him to their lineup.
So who has it right? The Dodgers or the rest of baseball?
Finally, a baseball season around here worth watching.
AS IMPORTANT as Ramirez is to the Dodgers' cause, Matt Kemp might mean just as much. Name another team in baseball that has the power potential and emerging talent that Kemp offers batting seventh.
Kemp struck out his first time up despite being committed to cutting down on his 153 strikeouts from last year. "Two years ago, I might have gotten down after starting that way," he says.
This time he came back to hit a monster home run, while also contributing a diving catch in center field.
"I just got new contacts," he says after learning what he had a year ago didn't allow him to see as well as he should. "I can see now."
I wonder whether Andruw Jones ever had his eyes checked.
THE CLIPPERS already have a druggie in Ricky Davis, a slacker in Baron Davis and now an alleged drunk driver in Zach Randolph. You know what they say, you win with character, the Clippers rolling up 18 wins this season.
Oh, and nice to know, as Coach Mike Dunleavy put it, Randolph had only a short distance to drive home drunk. If you're going to have a team with character, an understanding boss such as Dunleavy helps.
THE DEADLINE for renewing Kings season tickets for next season passed on April 1 -- one day before they were officially eliminated from the playoffs for the sixth consecutive year.
This season still isn't over, but fans were asked to look ahead to next season, hand over their money now and have faith in Tim Leiweke & Co. that things will be different.
Leiweke invited me to a Kings game this season, but I said I would go only if he'd have Beckham sitting beside me.
He couldn't produce, and so I didn't go to a Kings game, and from what I understand, missed nothing.