Ramirez cheered by Albuquerque fans
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. Los Angeles Dodgers slugger Manny Ramirez was welcomed back to baseball with rousing cheers.
In the minor leagues, anyway.
Ramirez, easing back into playing shape after a 50-game drug suspension, suited up for the Albuquerque Isotopes as they beat Nashville 1-0. Ramirez wore No. 99 for the Dodgers' top farm club.
He played four innings and was hitless in two at-bats. The capacity crowd of 15,321 was the largest in Albuquerque's baseball history.
Fans lined the walkway from the clubhouse as Ramirez entered the field. They gathered near the dugout, clustering for autographs, and they seemed ready to forgive Ramirez for violating baseball's drug rules.
"People love me everywhere I go," Ramirez said before the game. "I'm excited to bring a lot of joy to a lot of people here. I feel good. I'm happy that I'm here."
There were scattered boos before Ramirez batted leading off but cheers began before he was introduced and grew louder when he approached the plate. Flashbulbs blinked from around the ballpark during his two at-bats.
Some fans wore fake dreadlocks in a salute to Ramirez. Many cheered and called "Manny!" after he struck out swinging against Nashville's Manny Parra and when he grounded out in the third.
"He looked good," Isotopes manager Tim Wallach said. "Talking to him after, he said he saw the ball well. He felt good. Those are the two important things."
Initially, Ramirez had vowed not to do interviews until he rejoins the Dodgers, which is expected to happen July 3 at San Diego.
Manny being Manny, that lasted just over an hour.
After going through stretching, warmups, batting practice and shagging flies in the outfield, Ramirez returned to a cramped corner of the Isotopes clubhouse and briefly held court.
One of the first questions was about whether he used steroids.
"I'm not talking about it anymore," he said. "I already said what I'm going to say. I'm here to do my rehab, you know, and (go) to the game and get a couple at-bats and get back to the big-league team."
Ramirez played left field Tuesday night for the Dodgers' Triple-A affiliate. Wallach said Ramirez will play five innings on Wednesday and seven on Thursday.
It wasn't certain if Ramirez will see the series finale on Friday.
"I'm sure they'll let me know on that soon," Wallach said.
Ramirez, who flew into Albuquerque aboard a Southwest Airlines commercial flight, said his plan is simply to work back into playing shape.
Asked if he was close, he replied: "Not really close. I haven't played like in 50 days, but I'm going to catch up slowly, day by day."
Isotopes infielder Blake DeWitt, who has shuttled between the Dodgers and Albuquerque this season, said Ramirez can be a positive influence in the minor league clubhouse.
"He knows how to get ready," DeWitt said. "The guy's done this a long time. He's had a ton of success."
In Chicago, Dodgers manager Joe Torre was thrilled that his suspended slugger was playing ball again.
"I don't care what the results are, I just want to get him in game situations," said Torre, whose team was playing the White Sox. "He hasn't been missing for this period of time before. As much work as you do in the weight room and running on the field, it's still not the same as playing in a game. It's the game situation that sort of changes the atmosphere and your approach. I need to get him a number of games to get into the competition."