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T.J. SIMERS

It's baseball as usual in Manny Ramirez's return

Ramirez jokes with the media and says he's 'anxious' but not nervous in first game at Dodger Stadium after serving a 50-game suspension.

July 17, 2009|T.J. SIMERS

It is hours before his return to Dodger Stadium becomes official and Manny Ramirez is all grins walking down the tunnel leading to the dugout, bat in hand, and then he notices the manager surrounded by media.

He immediately pushes his way through the crowd to sit beside Joe Torre, Torre joking, "Here goes all the attention I was going to get."

In seconds Manny has everyone laughing, the very reason why almost no one in L.A. can, or is going to, remain upset with the big goof who is already a proven entertainer.

He says he's "anxious," but not nervous after being suspended and now going to play before the hometown crowd. "This is not my first rodeo. I think I can handle this."

No one in the media mentions anything about steroids, the question already asked in Albuquerque, San Diego and New York and getting nothing in return.

The most he will say is he's surrounded by supportive teammates, the best he's ever known, which ought to play well in Boston.

He says the fans in L.A. are "the best in the world," and now if only the Dodgers and Red Sox can meet in the World Series.

He turns to Torre at one point and asks, "How many innings am I going to play tonight?"

"You usually tell me that," cracks Torre, and now go ahead and try to pin Manny down on what he did, when he did it and for heaven's sake, why?

Instead everyone gets, "I'm back, Part 2."

Later, sitting in front of his locker eating a mixture of oatmeal, bananas and strawberries, only one columnist still hanging around, Manny says, "I don't get mad at the questions. The media can ask me anything they want. It's their job. It's my choice how I answer the questions."

He immediately shifts the conversation to the Grammy Awards, a conversation with Ramirez always an uncharted journey.

"You know I went to them and got that," he says, pointing to the gold statue in his locker that reads, "Best Lover."

Once one gets caught using performance enhancers, you just never know after that.

--

PLASCHKE MADE a big deal in the paper earlier, going so far as to suggest the Dodgers should not bring Manny back, but now he's sitting in Mannywood.

I suppose he has his reasons, but I wouldn't be surprised if he's wearing a wig. If you've seen "Around the Horn," you know what I'm talking about.

It's now 7:04 p.m., the Dodgers' lineup being announced to a half-full stadium and Ramirez gets the loudest cheers of any Dodgers player. If you've ever seen "Around the Horn," you know how loud Plaschke can be.

Manny has selected the music for his return and when he steps to the plate they play, "Abusadora," one of my favorites -- by that well-known group, a male or female singer, Wisin Y Yandel.

Some stand to applaud, most remain seated. They are obviously saving themselves for when Juan Pierre enters the game.

Ramirez hits a shallow fly to right, a diving catch preventing him from getting a hit. Funny, but I remember him being so much stronger.

He hasn't been here a full year, but he certainly knows his Dodgers fans, saving "Say Say Say" by Michael Jackson with Paul McCartney for the late-arriving crowd and his second at-bat.

He strikes out. Say say say what?

By now it's just baseball as usual in Dodger Stadium, just the way Manny would prefer it.

"When he came here last year and said 'I just want to play and then go home,' I came to understand he really meant it," says Torre. "If you didn't know him and just watched him on video clips, you'd think he's a pain in the neck.

"But last year he showed everyone how to have fun and play the game seriously."

As for being caught, Torre says, "In his mind he didn't do it intentionally. He will be a little more diligent what he puts in his body, would be my guess."

Who among us have not mistakenly taken female fertility drugs? But what about Manny's legacy, the 50-game suspension served, yet most Hall of Fame voters probably forever turned off?

"I will worry about that when I retire; there's plenty of time," Manny says. "I just wish I could have been around here longer. It's good I won two championships in Boston, but you know what they say, it's all about saving the best for last."

Legacy shmegacy, next Wednesday every fan in attendance will receive a Manny Ramirez Bobblehead, and not every baseball player and banned substance user is so honored.

I hope I can get one for Plaschke's desk.

Manny's hair is longer by the way, but no one seems interested. Those were the days.

Now maybe someone else would be a little tense with such attention, but it's yuks all around.

There's some story circulating about Manny excusing himself to go to the bathroom just as a dinner bill arrived in Milwaukee on the last trip, everyone giving him a hard time and Manny saying, "I haven't been paid in 50 games."

Maybe some people still believe he's really done baseball wrong, serving a 50-game suspension not enough, but inside the Dodgers' clubhouse they couldn't be happier to have him back.

"When your children do something wrong," says Torre, "you still love them."

That was before Manny went one for four, a single to right, but also two strikeouts. I wonder if he remembered to take his vitamins before the game.

--

TORRE's ASKED if he's worried about blowing it now that the Dodgers are so far ahead?

"I had a three-game [playoff] lead against Boston," he says. "I've done the ultimate blowing. I blew that inside a week. So what can I do in a couple of months, who knows?"

--

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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