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Cheers overshadow boos in Manny Ramirez's return

Many fans welcome Ramirez, who was serving a 50-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball's drug policy, with open arms.

July 04, 2009|Baxter Holmes

SAN DIEGO — "If he hits three home runs today, he's forgiven.

"If he hits one, I'll be on the fence," says Adolph Avila Jr. of Indio, who has bled Dodger blue since he was 3 years old. He's now 56.

Then Manny Ramirez, standing in the on-deck circle, enters the batter's box. The last time he was there and it counted in major league baseball was nearly two months ago.

Ramirez walks on eight pitches, mostly low and inside.

"He was giving him nothing," Avila says.

So said Barry Robinson of San Diego a few hours earlier, perched on his patio on 10th Street a few blocks from the park, looking.

"The Padres, they ain't gonna give him the satisfaction," he says in a Brooklyn dialect, looking like a latter-day Ernest Hemingway, potbellied with a thick salt-and-pepper beard.

Dodgers fans, some of them at least, wanted to know Ramirez -- who missed 50 games with the Dodgers for violating baseball's drug policy -- was sorry.

Then again, Avila was probably a minority in that category of fans who witnessed the Dodgers' 6-3 victory over the San Diego Padres. For instance: Second inning, Ramirez is at bat, the Dodgers holding a 5-0 lead, and four 20-something guys from Palos Verdes are in line for snacks on the third level of Petco, watching the overhead televisions.

TV asks: Should Manny Ramirez have been able to play minor league games during his suspension?

Four yeses.

Ramirez grounds out to second on the first pitch, but so what?

"His presence put up five runs," Marco Jurak says in lemons-into-lemonade fashion.

Fourth inning, third at-bat, Ramirez grounds out but advances Furcal to third.

"We need runners to score," another Dodgers fan says, same fashion as Jurak.

Emerson Diaz of L.A. has good seats for this groundout, along the third base line, and, like most Dodgers fans, it seems, he's a forgive-and forget kind of guy.

"He'll warm up," Diaz says, wearing the Dodgers No. 99 with some man-made Manny dreads he braided himself from a $15 wig. "He hasn't played for 50 games.

"But he's Manny."

And with that personality as likable as a puppy and as smooth as Tennessee sipping whiskey, fans still seem to love him. But Manny still being Manny, some are still sore, and some came to boo.

Such as Pat Cameronof Plymouth, Mass., who wore her "Green Monstah" shirt, representing Fenway Park where Ramirez exhausted his welcome before heading west.

Cameron herself came west with about 250 fellow Bay Staters, all coming for the National Education Assn. convention in San Diego this week.

"We called it 'Boo Manny Night,' " she says, happily.

You could even make out the word "steroids" -- especially when Alan Renga, a Padres fan from San Diego, started chanting it from above the Dodgers' dugout when Ramirez stepped on to the field to start stretching.

Renga stood out as the park wasn't yet full and since there were mostly cheers from the present Dodgers fans, who cheered louder to drown him out.

Renga admits, however, that he cheers for San Diego Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman, who was suspended for steroids. "I disapprove of that, but I still cheer for him," Renga says.

"I still think people who are cheering for [Ramirez] should know he did something wrong."

Yet in a crowd of 42,217, cheers overshadowed boos -- including many "Manny, Manny, Manny" chants -- and camera flashes sizzled like an incessant lightning storm.

"Dodgers fans forgive," said Steve Foxof L.A.

But that didn't mean there weren't morality issues with cheering for a player who violated what some consider the highest rules in the game.

Skip Penhall of Temecula struggled to find the right words to express he felt about Ramirez's return.

He stares off into the sold-out crowd -- "This is like a World Series event," said a guest service rep. - and pauses.

Finally, he says it.

"I'm glad he's back," Penhall says. "But I don't think taking drugs is the right way to play baseball."

--

baxter.holmes@latimes.com

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