Sacramento gets first look at Manny
Slugger's first home game takes on festive atmosphere
WEST SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- If you looked around Raley Field on Friday night, you would think the circus came to town.
Walk-up ticket sales were at a brisk pace. T-shirts proclaiming "Manny Mania" were on sale in the concourse. And about two dozen members of the media waited patiently hours before the game, including one TV reporter wearing a dreadlock wig for an evening news segment.
This was no circus. This was Manny Ramirez getting ready for what may be his last four games with the Sacramento River Cats before he can officially return to Major League Baseball next week.
The Oakland Athletics designated hitter is on assignment with the River Cats as he ends his MLB-imposed 50-game suspension. The three rings aside, he said this 10-game stint in Triple-A has felt like a second Spring Training.
"I mean it's Spring Training right now, so what I'm doing is just taking a lot of pitches, getting myself ready to get my timing and, you know, just leaving everything to God," said Ramirez, who received a mixture of cheers and boos during his first Sacramento at-bat. "[God] knows when I'm going to come up. I ain't got no worries. Just take a day at a time and go and enjoy myself."
Ramirez has been out of baseball since April 2011. He abruptly retired from the Tampa Bay Rays after he was suspended 100 games for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs a second time in his career. MLB officials reinstated him Dec. 10 with the stipulation he still had to serve a 50-game suspension, and he signed with the A's two months later.
Ramirez went 1-for-4 in a 5-3 loss on Friday night, maintaining his batting average at .250 (5-for-20) in six games, with three runs, two RBIs, two walks and five strikeouts. Oh, and no extra-base hits.
The A's could use help at the plate. They entered Friday hitting .210, the worst team batting average in the Major Leagues. But does he think he will be called up by A's general manager Billy Beane when he is eligible on May 30?
"I don't know, bro," said the 12-time All-Star. "All you have to do is talk to the GM."
While River Cats manager Darren Bush said Ramirez is in great physical shape, Bush was not sure Ramirez would be ready for the Majors if he were called up today.
"It's been a while since he's seen live pitching, so hopefully, he syncs up his timing and he comes along," he said. "He's hit both fastballs and breaking balls, so it's just a matter of him getting a rhythm of his own."
Even though he is eligible to be called up May 30 -- which also is Ramirez's 40th birthday -- A's manager Bob Melvin said this week there was no set date for Ramirez's callup. The prospect of remaining with the River Cats more than his allotted 10 days doesn't seem to faze Ramirez.
"That would be great," he said. "The more at-bats I take, the more I need. The more ready I get."
Ramirez seemed just as patient about getting a few extra-base hits. After all, he has 555 career homers, ranking him 14th on the all-time list and eight behind Reggie Jackson.
"I just go take pitches, swing, and one day it's going to happen," Ramirez said. "One swing it's going to happen."
Bush's main mission for Ramirez is to get him as many at-bats as possible. In fact, Bush said that's the only guideline he has received from Beane about his DH.
Even if Ramirez isn't deemed ready to return to the Majors by May 30, Bush doesn't think his callup is too far off.
"Manny possesses something that not a lot of people possess," Bush said. "That's the pure ability to hit.
"He's still getting hits when guys are throwing their best stuff against him. He's still getting the barrel on the ball."
Bill Bradley is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.