FORT MYERS, Fla. -- All is normal with the Boston Red Sox. Manny Ramírez is going to be late getting to spring training.
This is why we love the Sox. A spring training without a Sox star showing up late would be like a Thanksgiving without the Detroit Lions on television. It would be like no swallows returning to Capistrano.
All winter we wondered whether Manny would arrive on time and now we have our answer. He's going to be here March 1 (we think), a week later than the rest of his teammates. Naturally, Manny is doing this with the club's blessing.
It's no big deal, of course. Just as it was no big deal when Roger Clemens would take his time getting to Winter Haven, or when Pedro Martínez would hang in the Dominican for a few extra days for dad's birthday. Now the tardy torch is passed -- Rocket to Pedro to Manny. Like Tinker to Evers to Chance.
None of it matters as long as Manny eventually shows up and delivers his standard numbers (.310, 40, 120) over the next six months. We'll probably all laugh and look back at this spring training stunt as just another example of Manny being Manny. Meanwhile, Curt Schilling and his little late-night friends no doubt will remind us that this is just another example of the Knights of the Keyboard making something out of nothing.
Yesterday morning in the Fort started out as just another day in paradise for the Red Sox and their Nation of snowbirds. But then, just before noon, club publicists circulated a press release while Terry Francona and Theo Belichick, er, Epstein, attached microphones to their shirts and assumed their positions on the interview bench.
The handout read: ''The Boston Red Sox and Manny Ramírez today issued the following joint statement. 'With the permission of the Boston Red Sox, Manny Ramírez will report to Spring Training in Fort Myers on March 1, 2006. Manny is in Florida completing an extensive training regimen and is prepared to have an exceptional season.' "
Then Francona and Duquette, er, Epstein, took questions and gave the best answers possible under the circumstances.
Theo said he'd been talking to Manny over the last few days, adding, ''Tito had a conversation last night where we finally agreed on what was in the best interests of everybody . . . We're satisfied that in everyone's best interests that he finish his regimen in Florida and show up on March first. We're OK with this resolution . . . It's not perfect, but we're going to support him in this."
Translation: I'd have sent his butt to Baltimore for Tejada back in the days when I was running the club via satellite, but the Orioles wanted us to pick up too much salary, just as the Angels did, so we're just going to try to keep him as happy as we can. We need his bat.
Francona said, ''We spoke about how he feels about things and a lot of it is personal. It was a personal phone call. In a perfect world, every player shows up Thursday, but Manny was very honest, very forthright, very amicable. And he assured us he'll be here March 1, ready to go, and I'm OK with that. I support him in this. He's our player and we want to get the most out of him, and sometimes you make some adjustments along the way and you try to understand people's thinking."
Translation: Manny's been getting away with whatever he wants since he got here in 2001. Jimy Williams, Joe Kerrigan, and Grady Little were powerless to do anything about it, and the same goes for me. Think I want to hear him saying he can't play because of sore hamstrings all summer?
Reached on his cellphone in Fenway Park, Sox CEO Larry Lucchino (scheduled to be in camp today) said, ''I think it's all been said by the manager and the general manager. I don't have anything different to add. It's something the manager and player have worked out and that's as it should be."
Translation: Of course I'm hacked off about the whole situation, but I'm certainly not going to say anything that might make Theo mad. He's the voice of the franchise from now on and we all know Manny has us over a barrel.
Initially, there were concerns that the Sox might not have Manny's services until March 21, after the World Baseball Classic. The Sox said they can't make any comment on the WBC, but there are strong indications that Manny has decided not to play with his Dominican countrymen in the international tournament.
So as long as Manny shows up in a week, this little delay truly is a nonstory. And, just as they did when Roger and Pedro no-showed, the Sox were quick to point out that Manny is not in violation of the Basic Agreement's reporting date.
But . . . how do we know Manny will show up in a week? We never really know what's going on under that batting helmet of his, but he did put his Boston penthouse up for sale and it's certainly likely that he still wants to be traded. He may pout if the Sox keep him in a Boston uniform. Chronic hamstrings, remember?
The Red Sox need his bat. They can't afford to give him away for nothing. He has the talent and he has the contract.
Manny rules. So the Red Sox once again are forced to play by Manny Rules.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.