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Ortiz talks it up with Ramirez, Sox

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic -- Manny Ramirez may be the quirkiest superstar ever to don a Red Sox uniform, but he's no fool. Even if he fails to digest a daily compendium of sports journals with breakfast, Ramirez follows baseball news carefully enough to know the chances are infinitely greater he soon could be scanning the real estate listings in the Lone(some) Star state than his destination of choice in the city that never sleeps.

But don't expect Ramirez to follow the lead of his comrade in career crisis, Nomar Garciaparra, and dial up the local radio station -- "Manny from Miami, you're up next" -- to air his musings. He limits his communications to a few close friends, including David Ortiz, the affable slugger who all but matched Ramirez last season in production for the Sox. And the way Ortiz tells it, Boston's $160 million left fielder clearly sees the fork in the road that could lead him west.

"I feel like I have nine toes in Texas and one in Boston," Ramirez recently told Ortiz amid reports the Sox could send him to the Rangers for Alex Rodriguez. The deal would unfold in conjunction with the Sox trading Garciaparra to make room for Rodriguez at shortstop.

Though Ramirez never has been traded -- he signed as a free agent with the Sox in 2000 after spending 10 years in the Cleveland organization -- he appears to be approaching the possibility with his trademark detachment.

"He just makes fun of the situation," Ortiz said last night at Estadio Quisqueya before he played for the Escogido Lions against the Cibao Giants in the Dominican Winter League. "I can never tell what kind of feelings he has. With Manny, it's very hard to understand him."

Ramirez, who lives in South Florida, is due to arrive tomorrow in Santo Domingo. That means he will be encamped in the city of his birth while the Rangers try to complete the swap for his services with the Sox during the winter meetings in New Orleans. The meetings run tomorrow through Monday.

"It's crazy," Ortiz said in amazement at the potential blockbusters involving Ramirez and Garciaparra. "How are they going to take two hitters out [of the lineup]? That's a lot."

The answer is that Rodriguez would fill one of the slots -- he batted third exclusively last season for the Rangers -- and the Sox would use part of the $11.5 million they have earmarked to pay Garciaparra next season to pursue a productive left fielder. The possibility also exists that Ortiz would replace his pal, Ramirez, in the cleanup slot. Ortiz, who primarily batted fifth behind Ramirez, hit .288 overall with 31 homers and 101 RBIs last season, but he also fared well in limited cleanup action, batting .345 (10 for 29) with two homers and five RBIs.

For all the talk about moving Ramirez and Garciaparra, the Sox have no intention of trading Ortiz. Nor will they opt against tendering him a contract, as the Twins did last winter, clearing the way for the Sox to snag him at a bargain price: $1.25 million. In fact, Ortiz said the Sox plan to begin talks as early as tomorrow in New Orleans with his agent, Fernando Cuza, aimed at signing him to the first multiyear contract of his career.

Ortiz, who turned 28 last month, is eligible for salary arbitration, in which he could command a sizable raise. The Sox are likely to offer him more than $6 million over two years, with a club option for a third year.

"I'd like to get it done and chill," he said, "and get ready for the season."

No one gets ready harder than Ortiz, who tunes up by playing winter ball, as he did last year when he was named the MVP of the Caribbean World Series after leading the Dominican All-Star team to the championship. He joined Escogido last week after resting his sore knees for nearly eight weeks after the disappointing postseason finale in Yankee Stadium. Ortiz, who last night wore his Boston warmup cap and windbreaker during practice, entered the game batting .389 (7 for 18) with two doubles, a homer and three RBIs over his first five games.

Winter ball is a welcome break for Ortiz from the climate in Wisconsin, where he spends part of the offseason near his in-laws (he met his wife playing in the minors in Appleton, Wis.). But playing in the winter league also keeps him close to his roots, not far from the streets of his youth. He had just turned 17 when Ramon De Los Santos signed him for the Mariners in 1992.

In a country where poverty is rampant, Ortiz's father worked in an auto parts store and his mother was a domestic worker. His mother, Angela Rosa Arias, died in a car crash nearly three years ago in Santo Domingo at 47. He wears a large tattoo of her image on his arm, and his locker at Escogido's home stadium identifies him as David Ortiz Arias. One reason Ortiz was able to emerge as one of the most positive forces in the Sox clubhouse among players of all cultures last season was his command of English. He said his parents encouraged him to learn the language and paid for him to take English lessons after school.

"We were not rich at all," he said. "But they always told me to work a little harder. It could make all the difference."

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