World Series MVP looks back at time in Boston, helping out prospects
BOSTON -- In a fashion that couldn't have been imagined the day of his bitter parting with the Red Sox nearly six years ago, Manny Ramirez returned to Fenway Park on Wednesday with a big smile and a full crowd of Boston fans cheering his every step in from the Green Monster.
Ramirez, who was hired a few days ago to be a coach/player for the Chicago Cubs' Triple-A Iowa affiliate, seemed genuinely excited about his opportunity to get back in the game.
"Yes, I'm looking forward to that," said Ramirez, who came to Fenway for the 10-year anniversary celebration of the 2004 Red Sox. "That's a blessing from God, because I could go over there and give those kids my testimony on what to do in the field and what not to do off the field. It's going to be a blast. We're going to go and have fun out there."
At his best, Ramirez has always been fun, cracking people up with his quirks and his fun-loving nature.
At his worst, Ramirez brooded and asked out of the lineup and even pushed Red Sox traveling secretary Jack McCormick to the floor in an ugly incident about a month before the club traded him in 2008.
And for those type of moments, Ramirez expressed plenty of remorse on Wednesday -- first to McCormick and later to the media.
"Yes, yes, yes, I went and spoke to Jack," said Ramirez. "I apologized to Jack. I told him, 'Jack, I want you to forgive me, because it was my fault. I behaved bad here with everybody. I want you to forgive me.' He said, 'Manny, thank you, I was waiting for that.'"
Ramirez's fall from grace was not pretty. In 2009 with the Dodgers and then again in '11 while with the Rays, he was suspended for failing tests for performance-enhancing drugs.
The slugger tried to make it back, first with the Oakland Athletics and later with the Texas Rangers, but he couldn't make it past the Minor Leagues.
Now, Ramirez has a new opportunity, one which was given to him by his general manager in Boston and current president of baseball operations for the Cubs, Theo Epstein.
"It felt great, the way everything turned out, just for him to think about me, to that I could go out and help those young guys is a blessing," Ramirez said. "I was in my house. I was just there with my kids. My agent called me and said, 'Hey, I've got a job for you.' So we prayed for it first and then I accepted the job."
Religion has become a central point in Ramirez's life. What were the circumstances that led to that?
"When I went to jail with that problem with my wife [in 2011], they didn't let me see my kids for maybe two or three months," Ramirez said. "One day, I wake up and I look myself in the mirror and I said, 'I needed a change.' So I started going to bible studies and I saw that it was good, so I kept going and God helped me to change my life."
And now, Ramirez will see if he can make a difference in the lives of Cubs' prospects while also getting to play a couple of times a week.
"It's the game that I love," said Ramirez. "I belong in the game, and when you can help out young people and give advice, advice that you have for free, it's good to give it up to young players."
His former Red Sox teammates agree that the scenario could be one Ramirez thrives in.
"I think it's great," said Pedro Martinez. "Manny is in perfect position to be an example of what not to do, and also what to do. Manny is really smart and Manny knows how to hit, how to teach.
"I think if Manny is able to relate some of his knowledge to some of those kids in the Minor Leagues and also tell them that people have the right to change, to become a better person, that bad things shouldn't be done in baseball and in any sport, Manny could be the right messenger for all those things we're talking about.
"What a gracious guy to actually go out there. He's a special guy in history. Manny has done a lot in baseball. He has a great bunch of people behind him. People that are rooting for him to finally to get a hold of his life like he's doing now."
The process of molding young hitting minds will start at some point next week, Ramirez expects. He will first go to the Cubs' player development facilities in Arizona to get his legs under him and then travel to Des Moines at some point after.
"Well, I've got it very clear that I was only going to play maybe two times a week," Ramirez said. "They're not going to take any at-bats from the prospects. I know my role over there."
In his return to Fenway, Ramirez threw out a ceremonial first pitch that was supposed to go to Jason Varitek. But Johnny Damon cut it off as a gag, referencing the time Ramirez foolishly cut off one of Damon's throws, helping the Orioles' David Newhan to an inside-the-park home run.
And as a series of 2004 heroes came on to the field, Ramirez came out through the door in the Green Monster scoreboard -- just like he once did when the Red Sox briefly couldn't find him during a pitching change.
It was clear that Ramirez wanted to come back to Boston on Wednesday to create a better feeling than when he abruptly left in 2008 after that blockbuster trade sent him to the Dodgers.
"I behaved bad with the organization, with my teammates, but now I realize that. I have to move on. I can't be looking in the past," said Ramirez.