05/21/12 11:33 PM ET
Manny's focus firmly on the here and now
By Christian Corona / MLB.com
"Now they call me 'Manny Angelico,'" said Manny Ramirez.
Ramirez began a 10-game Minor League stint on Saturday with the Sacramento River Cats, the Athletics' Triple-A team, going 0-for-4. He missed Sunday's game with a sore left wrist but was back in the lineup on Monday, going 2-for-2 with a walk in a 6-5 loss to the Round Rock Express.
Ramirez played in front of 8,383, one of the largest midweek audiences at Round Rock this year. He was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning and says that his wrist feels good.
The two-time World Series champ and 12-time All-Star turns 40 on May 30 but believes he has plenty left in the tank.
"Age is just a number," he said. "Who said I don't have enough? I'm here because I know I'm going to produce."
After serving a 50-game suspension in 2009 for violating baseball's drug policy, Ramirez retired rather than face a 100-game suspension for another failed drug test less than two years later. He filed for reinstatement last December and was allowed to return provided he serve a second 50-game suspension instead of 100. The Athletics signed Ramirez this February and he will be eligible to return to the Major Leagues on his birthday.
"When you make a mistake, you have to pay the price, and that's what I'm doing," he said. "I was looking at myself in the mirror, and I said, 'Something needs to change.' I want to be different."
Ramirez, who helped the Red Sox capture World Series championships in 2004 and 2007, ranks 14th on the all-time home run list, with 555, and 18th on the all-time RBI list, with 1,831. His .312 career batting average is also among the best in history.
"He's one of the best hitters of our generation, period," said River Cats outfielder Grant Green, a 24-year-old who boasts a .308 batting average. "It's going to be fun to see what happens when the rust comes off. He'll be tattooing balls, and balls will start leaving the yard. He'll be the Manny of old, and he'll start hitting again."
In 2008, following eight seasons with the Indians and another eight with the Red Sox, Ramirez was dealt to the Dodgers just before the Trade Deadline. Two years later, the White Sox claimed him off waivers. He agreed to a one-year deal with the Rays in 2011 but played only five games, going 1-for-17. He has not played in the big leagues since last April.
"I don't worry about my legacy. I just worry about moving in the right path," he said. "I'm excited to come back and do what I love most. ... This is the game I've been playing since I was just a little kid, and I thank God that I have another opportunity."
Upon his return to professional baseball, Ramirez has attracted plenty of media attention and fanfare, yet his teammates claim that he has fit in well with his new club, that he's just one of the guys.
"He's a pretty laid-back guy," said River Cats pitcher A.J. Griffin. "He's a cool guy. He's not a distraction, like a lot of other people might think he'd be. He's a really good teammate."
Ramirez has cited his wife, Juliana, as one of the biggest reasons why he's trying to make a comeback. He also expressed an increased devotion to his faith, claiming it to be a primary source of the change he's working to instill in himself.
"It's hard to be a Christian, because when God comes inside your heart, you don't do things that you used to," he said. "Nobody can walk the perfect path, because nobody's perfect."
Even when asked about his chances of earning a place in the Hall of Fame, Ramirez put the issue in terms of his faith.
"I know a lot of people talk about the Hall of Fame, blah, blah, blah," he said. "But you know something? The Bible says that it's better to be in the Book of Life. And that's where I want to be. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn't, it's not a big deal."
Ramirez isn't concerned with past accolades and mistakes, and he doesn't care about what the future might bring, at least as far as his chances of being enshrined in Cooperstown go. His focus is forward, and he's only worried about the here and now.
"I'm going to give 100 percent," he said. "If it doesn't happen, I've got God, and I've got my family. That's all I want."
Christian Corona is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.