Manny brings vast experience to young Cubs
Ramirez helps bridge language and cultural gap between staff and Latin players
NEW YORK -- Manny Ramirez is getting rave reviews on his second act in baseball.
As the Cubs "hitting consultant" at both the Minor and Major League levels since 2014, the former slugger has had an impact on several of the team's young prospects. And when it comes to Latin American players such as Starlin Castro, Jorge Soler and Javier Baez, Ramirez has helped bridge the language and cultural gap between the Cubs coaching staff and players.
"With the language, it's much easier for us to understand the things he tells us," Baez, a native of Puerto Rico, said. "Some of us speak and understand English, but some things are tougher for us to understand. With Manny, he sits down with us and doesn't leave us alone until he's sure we know exactly what's been communicated to us."
Cubs manager Joe Maddon puts a high value on that aspect of Ramirez's role.
"Almost as a cultural coach, the fact that we have so many young Hispanic players," he said. "To have Manny here to validate a lot of the stuff that we're talking about really helps, not a little, but a lot.
"His influence on that group has been substantial."
Ramirez, almost five complete seasons removed from his last Major League game as a player, has seemingly found a niche as an instructor and mentor.
"The guys and I get along great," Ramirez said. "You've got to respect them and they respect me a lot. That's why I'm here, to help them at any time in a game, and in any situation give them good advice."
Ramirez, 43, was hired last year by Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein -- his former boss in Boston -- as a Minor League player/coach for Triple-A Iowa. As a player at Iowa last season, Ramirez hit .222 with three home runs in 24 games, while working as an instructor with many of the young players that have propelled the Cubs to their 2015 success. After hitting six more home runs for the Aguilas Cibaenas in 41 games in last year's Dominican winter league season, Ramirez resumed his duties this spring for the Cubs with Maddon, who took over as Chicago's manager this season and knew Ramirez from their brief time together on the Rays in 2011.
"We had a lot of conversations about hitting," Maddon said about his stint managing Ramirez in Tampa Bay. "We found out that we're definitely on the same page. It was really cool to watch batting practice.
"We'd talk not just the physical components, I'm talking about the mental. Because he's really tuned in to the mental side of hitting, and I love that."
When commenting on Ramirez's impact on their progress at the plate, Cubs hitters often come back to that mental aspect of the game.
"When I was going through a bad time, he told everyone else not to speak in negative terms around me," said Castro, one of Ramirez's Dominican countrymen. "That has helped me. He always talked me through that.
"He's had a lot of experience in baseball and everything he's talked to us about has been positive. He's a good guy and helps with everything."
Over the years as a player, the quirkiness surrounding "Manny being Manny" was well-documented. But seldom in question was Ramirez's dedication to hitting, and the time and work he put into that craft. That is one quality that has resonated with Cubs players he's worked with.
"We're always in the cage working, on the mental and physical part," Castro said. "We're always talking about how each player is going to be pitched to."
With Soler, the key area has been helping the young Cuban slugger stay selective at the plate.
"He's facilitated that," Soler said, "and also for me to focus on all the pitchers, what they're going to throw [in general] and what they're going to throw me.
"Anyone who has problems, he helps him solve them. I'm really thankful and proud to have him here."
And for Baez, one of the lessons has been keeping his swing under control.
"He taught me not to swing too hard. For me it was natural to do that, but I have to make the adjustment," he said.
Considering the friction between Ramirez and Red Sox management -- with Epstein as GM -- at the end of his time in Boston as a player in 2008, it would have been hard then to imagine this type of reunion. But it's been a happy one so far.
"I love having him here," Maddon said. "He's a positive, upbeat kind of guy, and so he's been a really nice fit. When it comes to Starlin, Jorge Soler, primarily those two guys, the job he's done has been spectacular."