PHOENIX-- Green-collar baseball? When Manny Ramirez is in camp for the A’s, it’s green do-rag baseball. It’s “Guess who’s in the cage?” baseball. It’s “Can he still do it?” baseball.
It hasn’t been like this for a while at Papago Park, the A’s training complex, a ball player who has to be watched, if even to find out whether he still deserves to be watched.
He won’t be eligible to play until May 30, the day on which Manuel Aristides Ramirez turns 40.
“I have to show I can still play,” said Ramirez on Tuesday. “I haven’t been in a game since April. It will take time. But I’ll be there.”
Five days into his stay with the A’s, Ramirez isn’t taking time.
At 7:30 a.m. Tuesday, the wind blowing below the huge buttes which act as twin sentinels for Oakland spring baseball, Manny, being Manny, was swinging away, joining catcher Kurt Suzuki.
Ramirez is serving that 50-day suspension which was reduced from a repeat offender 100-day suspension for violation of MLB’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.
He wore out welcomes virtually everywhere he played, particularly with the Boston Red Sox, where his idiosyncrasies and apparent lack of focus had Boston journalists ready to crack lobster shells with their teeth, if not crack Ramirez over the bean with a wicked adjective.
But so far, so good for the A’s, who chasing the moneyed Los Angeles Angels and Texas Rangers with little more than dreams and a once-great slugger, need every bit of help and attention they can receive. Ramirez is providing both.
There were maybe 30 to 40 fans at the multi-diamond complex where the streets are named for Walter Haas, Charles O. Finley and others from A’s history. Wherever Ramirez went. the spectators followed. They know a draw when they see one.
And A’s manager Bob Melvin, the onetime Cal and Giants catcher, knows an opportunity when he has one. “In what I’m seeing now,” said Melvin, alluding to Ramirez’s approach and results, “he’s doing all the same things he’s always done. Two out of every five balls are going over the fence in batting practice.”
The question is answered with another question, when Ramirez, cordial and laughing, is asked why, as a free agent, he signed with the A’s. “Why everybody ask ‘Why you sign with A’s?’ I wanted to play in Oakland,” he said. “I could have gone with Toronto.”
The A’s new batting coach, Chili Davis, who once roamed the outfield at Candlestick Park for the Giants, said he has to remind the 39-year-old Ramirez a different approach is required than a few years earlier, especially when a man hasn’t faced major league pitching in literally a year.
“He keeps telling me every day, ‘Attack, attack,” Ramirez said. “When you’re away from the game, you do things, get your hands in the wrong place.”
Ramirez, once he decided to return to the game, went through a boot camp to get physically prepared.
“But I’m not baseball ready,” said Ramirez, who has a career total of 555 home runs, “I have to get down timing with pitchers, and sliding on bases.”
He’ll get that timing. The A’s only wish they didn’t have to wait until the end of May to get Ramirez.