Manny makes strong first impression on A's
Humble veteran impresses new teammates with attitude, power
PHOENIX -- If actions really do speak louder than words, as Manny Ramirez says they do, then the 39-year-old slugger is off to an excellent start with the A's.
Ramirez, attempting to play his way back into the game he left behind nearly a year ago, made for quite the scene Friday morning, as he embarked on the latest chapter of a controversial career via a Minor League deal with Oakland.
The newest member of the A's, who will wear No. 1 "because everything starts with one," quickly made himself at ease with his teammates, whom he shared several laughs with when not showing off his picturesque swing -- at least seven home runs were counted -- during a round of batting practice.
"As soon as he made contact with the baseball," Cliff Pennington said, "you could tell it was a different animal. He's still got whatever it is he's got."
Much of the reason it's on display again can be traced to his wife and media darling, Juliana, who took to the mound in a white summer dress and four-inch heels and managed to throw strike after strike to sons Manny Jr. and Lucas during their own playful hitting session. Minutes before, they stood closely by Ramirez's side as he addressed media members for nearly 12 minutes and relayed a sense of gratitude for his most recent opportunity and the change he's found in himself since discovering God.
"I think I'm here because God brought me here," Ramirez said, exuding a genuine tone. "Sometimes when you don't have God in your heart, you do stupid things without thinking about it. When you start going to church and learning what really is going on, it's like you're opening your eyes and realizing it doesn't matter how much money you got, nice house, cars. If you don't have God in your heart, it doesn't mean anything. So now I appreciate my family more, my kids, the game."
Whether he can still play the game at the level he maintained in his previous 19 big league seasons remains to be seen. The A's presented Ramirez with a non-guaranteed contract worth just $500,000, a number that will dwindle to around $340,000 -- the league minimum is $480,000 -- following his 50-game drug suspension.
Money, obviously, wasn't a factor in his decision to re-enter the game, which last saw him in a Rays uniform before he retired after just five games rather than serve a 100-game suspension that has since been cut in half.
"I made some mistakes and I want to show my children I can correct them," Ramirez said.
It was just last September he was formally charged with domestic violence, an event that nearly led him to lose his family. But just like Friday, his wife never left his side, and instead inspired him to attend church every Thursday morning and engage in prayer.
In turn, Ramirez not only found a listener in God but in himself.
The 12-time All-Star -- a career .312 hitter with 555 home runs, good for 14th on the all-time list, and 1,831 RBIs -- will receive plenty of at-bats at the designated hitter spot this spring. His suspension, which makes him eligible to play in a Major League contest as early as May 30, does not preclude him from participating in any exhibition games.
By Friday afternoon, manager Bob Melvin had already expressed to Ramirez what he expects from him during that time, and in any action that may follow under his watch.
"He said, 'You will have no problem with me,'" Melvin said. "I only have a couple rules. One is kind of all-encompassing, but all our guys know I expect them to bust it down the line every single time, and he said, 'I'll be the last guy you have to worry about that as far as that goes.'"
"His attitude that he came in with was awesome, and just the whole approach he had to the day in general was all that you could ever ask for," Pennington said. "I think he'll be an awesome guy on our team to have going forward. It was like we were long-lost friends."
Fellow dreadlock wearer Jemile Weeks was equally impressed, not just by Ramirez's performance, but in the genuine manner he conducted business on Day 1.
"For somebody with his stature and track record, to come and talk to the younger guys and make us feel comfortable, that's a big plus on his behalf," the A's second baseman said. "You can tell he has the right frame of mind, off the field and on. In my mind, he's still got it. The power hasn't gone anywhere.
"He jumps out of bed hitting home runs. He kept saying, 'Nah, I didn't get that one.' And they were all gone in a second."
Ramirez's time with the A's could be, too, should he act up in "Manny being Manny" fashion. But he insists his transformation is a permanent one.
"Sometimes you don't appreciate what you have until you lose it, and that's what happened to me," he said. "Everyone knows my story. ... Now, I'm at peace."