SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Manny Ramirez offered his hand.
“Tranquilo,” he said, the Spanish word for calm, quiet, peaceful.
Still a long way from Boston. Still tranquil.
“Lincecum today?” he asked.
Bumgarner, actually, for the Giants. Madison. Young guy. They scratched Sanchez. Burned his finger cooking or something. Lincecum tomorrow.
“No Lincecum?” he said. “I thought it was Lincecum.”
“I wanted to get some at-bats off him,” he said. “What's Bumgarner?”
“Lefties get me out.”
Nobody gets you out.
The Dodgers were in Arizona for one last day. Most of the regulars had headed to L.A., but not Ramirez, who'd get a couple plate appearances between Chin-lung Hu and Doug Mientkiewicz before going, well, home. He's got a place in Studio City, next door to center fielder Matt Kemp, in the elbow of the Ventura and Hollywood freeways, maybe 15 minutes from Dodger Stadium.
April had arrived with Ramirez in the Camelback Ranch batting cages just after sun-up, hitting off a tee. He would work his agility drills, his usual stuff, in a spring training that for him – and only for him – was brief.
Into the final weekend of exhibition games, Ramirez has 21 at-bats, 28 plate appearances. He probably doesn't have anywhere near enough innings in left field, but then maybe he never will. He's batting .476. That looks ready.
He'd signed his contract in the first week of March, got into a batter's box nine days later, had his hamstring tighten up, and now here he is, a few days from opening day and feeling …
He strolled into Scottsdale Stadium with a heavy blue bag slung over his right shoulder. The dreads hung to the center of his back, so that later they'd dangle to the tops of the 9s on his uniform. Not only have the Dodgers instituted The Ramirez Provision, which brought the union grievance against so-called forced charitable donations, but now The Ramirez Exception, which stipulates Manny's hair can be only as long as the nearest fungo bat.
He was among the first to the visitor's clubhouse here. He pulled a metal folding chair under him and waited for everybody else, bouncing a yellow softball off the cement floor.
“I'm on vacation,” he said. “Everything I wanted to do in baseball, I've already done.”
“Nothing,” he said. “If I wake up and I'm healthy, I'm fine. I'm thinking about staying alive. That's it. Everything else, it's extra credit.”
Another World Series, maybe? I don't know.
“Just show up," he said. "That's the way it should be. If it doesn't play out, you come back next year and do it again.”
It's the kind of talk that got him into trouble a couple years back when the Red Sox trailed Cleveland in a playoff series, during an October that ended in a championship anyway. But not anymore. So far it's been enough for him to show up and hit. He'll take left field at Dodger Stadium again Thursday night, for the first time since he'd carried the organization well into October, then had his man conduct four months of negotiations so he'd be here in early April.
He seems sure he belongs in L.A., those $45 million having gone a long way toward convincing him. Now it's about putting the bat barrel on the ball again, which has always been the easy part, what came natural. The Dodgers played their final game last season on Oct. 15, the night the Philadelphia Phillies finished them off, and Ramirez was back in the batting cage Oct. 16.
“I was bored,” he said.
A friend of his, however, said it was less about that than being unwilling to let go. He'd been so hot, putting down the bat for a month or a week or even a day was out of the question. So, he hit the next day and the next one, because he wouldn't waste a single pure swing, even when there was nobody else to play with.
His teammates will line up Monday night at Petco Park with 60 at-bats, 70 at-bats, even 80 at-bats. Ramirez will be lucky to have 30.
“We still get six more months.”
It's the simple genius of Ramirez, Joe Torre would say.
“I think the type of hitter he is, where he uses the whole field, it's probably easier for him to regain his timing,” he said.
Neither has a choice now.
So, Manny will get a few more at-bats against the Angels, then five or six the following couple nights against the Milwaukee Brewers, all leading to the eve of Mannywood II.
The Dodgers pitching staff is vulnerable. The expectations, however, remain the same; Manny will hit them into the postseason, and he'll have a good time doing it, and he'll romance every fan along the way.
As easy as that looks, Manny confided, he hadn't been sleeping much recently. He'd been up a little after 5 every morning, restless. Maybe it's the time change, he said. Hard to tell. He shrugged.
“We'll be fine,” he said, “when we get to L.A.”
Yeah, it's still easier there. Still calm.