Mannywood abuzz as Ramirez returns

LOS ANGELES --- Mannywood's star attraction was back in residence Thursday night, with slugger Manny Ramirez playing at Dodger Stadium for the first time since his 50-game suspension for violating baseball's drug rules ended.


Fans greeted Ramirez's first at-bat with hearty applause and chants of "Manny! Manny!" Batting third, he flied out to Houston right fielder Hunter Pence, who made a diving catch to end the inning.

Ramirez arrived about five hours before the team opened a 10-game home stand against the Astros. He went through batting practice and fielding drills under a hot sun.

"I'm excited, man," Ramirez said, his eyes hidden behind sunglasses and his dreadlocks secured by a bright green band. "This is the best fans in the world, and they're behind me, so I'm looking forward for this game."

Manager Joe Torre figured the fans would be in Ramirez's corner because they attend games to enjoy themselves and forget about their own problems.

"I don't think any of us have lobbied for let's give him a rousing ovation," he said. "I'm sensing they're going to embrace him again. What he did was wrong, certainly it's something you don't condone.

"The fans come out here to be entertained. They understand he did something wrong and he paid his price."

Torre was already talking to reporters when Ramirez made his way through the horde to sit on top of the dugout bench next to Torre.

"Here goes all the attention I'm going to get," Torre said jokingly.

Ramirez squeezed Torre's left knee and said, "Hey, he's the man."

The easy rapport between star player and manager was apparent, with Ramirez asking Torre, "How many innings am I going to play today, Joe?"

Torre drew laughter when he replied, "You usually tell me that."

Ramirez glanced toward left field and saw the Mannywood sign in front of the field level seats. Later, fans gathered in the first few rows to watch the Astros take batting practice.

"I'm back, Part 2," he said.

Asked if his second act would be better than his first, he said, "Remember, you always leave the last part for the best. So that's what we're going to do."

Ramirez returned to the lineup July 3 in San Diego during the team's nine-game trip heading into the All-Star break.


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