A bat in his hands and a smile on his face, Manny Ramirez bounded through the Oakland Athletics' clubhouse Saturday hollering, "I'm back in the lineup! I'm back in the lineup!"
Yes, Manny is back.
The sullied slugger with the long dreadlocks and red do-rag is getting a do-over.
He's trying to make it back to the major leagues a year after retiring from the Tampa Bay Rays rather than serve a 100-game suspension for a second positive drug test.
He's soaking it all in this time around, too.
"I'm just blessed to be here and playing the game that I love," he said.
It shows in his work ethic and the way he interacts with his new teammates, especially Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes.
The 39-year-old clubhouse cutup was excited to return to the Athletics' lineup this weekend after spending a few days hitting in the team's minor league camp with Cespedes, who made his spring training debut Saturday against the Cincinnati Reds.
Shaking off rust
Ramirez went 0-for-3 and is hitless in eight at-bats so far, but he reached on two errors Saturday and is starting to make better swings as he chops the rust off.
Ramirez is eager to go back about proving he still has some pop at the plate.
"I'm back, I feel great," Ramirez said before his first game since getting scratched from the A's lineup Wednesday with lower back stiffness.
Ramirez is still chipping off the rust after nearly a year away from the game.
The 12-time all-star signed a minor league deal with the A's last month that's worth $500,000 US if he's added to the big league roster — that's about 100 times less than he made in his two seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He's allowed to participate in spring training games and exhibition games scheduled in Japan, but must serve a 50-game suspension before he can play in the regular season for Oakland should he make the club.
The A's will have a bargain on their hands if Ramirez can return to the level that made him one of the most feared hitters in baseball.
Ramirez just wants to show he can still play so he can do right by the game that gave him fame and fortune and to honour his wife and kids who stuck by him through difficult times, he said.
"I'm just so happy to be here. I never thought I was going to get another chance," he said.
There's a skip in his step as he tries to right his wrongs.
"Absolutely. He tells me every day how lucky he feels to be able to be here and to have another opportunity, how blessed he is," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "And it's good to see. He's very energetic. He's one of the first in the cages every day and one of the last ones to leave. His work ethic for a younger group of guys goes a long way.
'Sometimes you don't appreciate what you have until you lose it, and that's what happened to me. Now I appreciate my family more, my kids, the game.'— Oakland Athletics hopeful Manny Ramirez
"Not only is he a big help for Cespedes but for our young group to see how he works and how he works at his craft and, really, he'll say a few things to some of the hitters, too," Melvin added. "I think maybe in the past he's been a bit more reserved to what he does, but I think he's probably a little bit more open now to talking about what he does. And he's done it pretty well."
When Ramirez arrived in camp, he was accompanied by his wife, Juliana, and two sons. Juliana occasionally put her hand on Ramirez as he spoke about the difficulties — he did not address specifics — he's endured since telling Major League Baseball he was retiring a week into the 2011 season. He was arrested last September for allegedly hitting his wife during a domestic altercation.
"Sometimes you don't appreciate what you have until you lose it, and that's what happened to me," Ramirez said. "Now I appreciate my family more, my kids, the game. I've got a beautiful wife, I've got my kids, my family and I'm getting my career back. It's been a blessing."
On Saturday, Ramirez said he wanted to leave the game the right way, whenever that is, so that he can leave a legacy his children can be proud of.
"That's what I'm doing because nobody's perfect in this world," Ramirez said. "I've got problems. You've got problems. Everybody's got problems. I'm going to keep playing because God has given me the power to keep going."
Ramirez will remain in extended spring training while he serves his suspension, though Melvin said he foresees having him work out with the team in Oakland for a series here and there before he's eligible to play 10 games in the minors.
"Once fans come in the stands he has to go away, but it would break up the monotonous grind of being at extended [spring training] every day," Melvin said.
Seizing the opportunity
Don't worry, Ramirez said, he's not going to get bored.
"Oh, I love it," he said of the prospect of facing prospects. "I'm blessed to be back in baseball. I'm working on everything. I feel great. They gave me a chance. I'm just going to do my best. I'm doing something that I love."
Ramirez, the career leader in post-season home runs (29) and RBIs (78), said he has no expectations other than to show he can play. Asked what his goals were, he said, "To be there for my kids when they need me."
A career .312 career hitter who's 14th on baseball's all-time home run list with 555, will wear the number 1 — as in a new start — because his first choice, 7, belonged to infielder Adam Rosales.
So far, Ramirez has been the engaging, gregarious, hardworking teammate the A's were hoping for and not the sulking slugger some fans feared would show up.
"He's having fun, he's joking around, I mean, he keeps the clubhouse loose," catcher Kurt Suzuki said. "The one thing we see all the time is when he's here, he's here to work. And he works hard. That's something us young guys can take out because he's in the cage just taking hundreds of swings. He takes young hitters under his wing. That's awesome."