Since the Dodgers' season appears to be winding down after a loss to the Giants on Friday night, I thought I'd get an early start on spring training features.
SAN FRANCISCO — I read all the "good riddance" columns after Hanley Ramirez left Florida, researched those moments when Ramirez reportedly came across as a temperamental prima donna, but only put stock in what he has to say now.
"I have three kids," he says, "And I don't want them to hear some day that their father was a bad man. I'm not."
And so we begin Friday, Ramirez taking on every question or repeated criticism as we sit in the team hotel shortly before the Dodgers meet the Giants.
"I know there were a lot of people wondering how it was going to go when I came here," he says. "What did I tell you when I got here? Believe what you see."
So far, so wonderful. Forty-one games into his run as a Dodger, Ramirez has given the Dodgers 10 home runs and 37 runs batted in, and upon close inspection, an obvious zest for the game.
The other day, Vin Scully arrives at the stadium at the same time as Ramirez and Juan Uribe. Scully says he's a little surprised when Ramirez bounces in his direction and asks if he might get a picture with Scully.
Uribe takes the picture, the Dodgers finally finding something he can do.
"Hanley's just so bubbly," says Scully, and that's what you see most days, Ramirez carrying on with Matt Kemp like two kids playing in the backyard.
Ramirez says he's having a blast playing for the Dodgers, calling his teammates "unbelievable" and Kemp a great team leader.
He says his repaired shoulder is allowing him to play at 100%, proclaiming overall, "I'm different now.
"Everything that I have heard said about me has only made me stronger; even though the L.A. fans knew what was out there and being said about me they still accepted me. I want to prove myself to them so from now on they'll have my back and let everyone know, you don't talk about Hanley like that."
For those who question his attitude, he says he's all about winning.
"Sometimes I just get so mad I lose my mind," he says. "It's like I just want to talk to God like face to face and ask him why am I'm doing so badly."
The Dodgers have him under contract for two more years, but who is he?
He's an only child, his parents wanted him to be an engineer, but he could play baseball as well as the older kids.
He remembers his parents crying when they put him on a plane to the States when he was a Red Sox prospect who knew very little English.
He began to make a name for himself, but not always a good one. He directed an obscene gesture at his minor league manager and was suspended.
"I come from the hood in the Dominican," he says. "We like respect. You respect me, and I'm going to respect you. My manager showed me up while I was on the field and I got mad."
The Red Sox could find no room for him on their roster, although fans clamored for his promotion. He was traded to the Marlins as part of a deal bringing Josh Beckett to Boston.
He became the Marlins' version of Kemp, runner-up in MVP voting, but says in hindsight he could have used someone like Jeff Kent. Right now Kemp is rolling his eyes.
"We had a bunch of young players; no one to get in my face and tell me about my mistakes," he says.
When he's accused of loafing he doesn't do much to defend himself. It's a mistake.
He takes a foul ball off an ankle, then hits into a double play while not running hard. He stays in the game.
"I always want to play," he says.
He can't catch a ball hit over his head and boots it deeper into the outfield, chasing the ball while two runs score.
"In my mind I was running hard but my body wouldn't let me," he says.
He's benched, spars with his manager, meets with the media but never tells them about his ankle.
"I just don't think much of excuses," he says.
He rolls up big numbers for the Marlins and is considered the face of the franchise. He's still in his 20s.
"When you get that much attention, you've got to grow up," he says, "and it took me time. I learned a lot, but it took me time."
He battles shoulder injuries, the result of his big swing. He says if he doesn't make the big swing, he will roll his wrists and ground out to third or short.
He hits .243 last year, injuries ending his season early while sniping teammates target him behind his back.
"I was too good," he says, trying to laugh it off. "Sometimes when you're too good you're going to have haters."
He begins this season slowly, admitting "I lost my confidence." And this is someone who will tell you, "I'm the best. I have to think that way to play my best."
Apparently he doesn't always do a good job of coming across to those standing before him with microphones or notebooks, writers in Florida calling him "sullen."
I have to explain to him the definition of sullen, Ramirez admitting his English skills are sometimes a handicap.
"I have no problem understanding everything in Espanol," he says.
He gets upset before the All-Star break and punches a cooling fan in the dugout. One more strike against him.
"I didn't punch it," he says. "I raised both hands in the air like 'What am I doing?' And my knuckle went through the [spokes]."
He needs a couple of stitches and forgets to take his medicine. He develops an infection.
"That's me," he says. "I forget all the time. It's a problem. I have trouble remembering birthdays."
"The 26th of May," he says, smart enough to know that and not mention the year."
And he laughs, the fun just beginning, or so we shall see.