Manny Ramirez is a huge Patriots fan, according to his Miami-based agent, Gene Mato, and a big admirer of quarterback Tom Brady and cornerback Ty Law. Ramirez bought a plane ticket and planned to fly up from South Florida to attend tomorrow's AFC Championship game with Mato, who also represents Indianapolis star running back Edgerrin James, but as of yesterday, Mato said, Ramirez had a change of heart and is probably going to stay home.
"He's afraid that if he goes to the game and they show him on the scoreboard, everybody will start booing him," Mato said.
And that would be unfortunate, the agent said, because despite whatever people may believe at this stage, Ramirez is glad to be coming back to the Red Sox this season.
As evidence, Mato cites the date, Dec. 6, when he and Ramirez placed a phone call to Red Sox owner John W. Henry, in the midst of the trade talks that would have sent Ramirez to the Texas Rangers for shortstop Alex Rodriguez.
"He called John Henry and told him he didn't want to be traded," Mato said. "John's been great with Manny. Manny likes him a lot. Manny doesn't blame John for anything.
"The best thing that happened to this team is the trade didn't go down. Why break up a team that was one game away from the World Series and has added Curt Schilling? Yes, Alex Rodriguez is a great player, but he's already proved he can't do it alone. Why break up the great chemistry that team had?
"Manny seems to be real excited about this year. He started working out about three days after the Red Sox lost to the Yankees, and he's probably in better shape right now than he was at any time last year.
"Get ready. Get ready for this year. He is going in angry."
This is the same Ramirez, to be sure, who told teammates, most notably David Ortiz, that he wanted to be traded last season, and whose agent, Jeff Moorad, acknowledged that the Sox placed Ramirez on irrevocable waivers after the postseason in part to satisfy Ramirez's desire to play for the Yankees.
Mato does not dispute that, nor does he dispute the fact that the Sox were incensed at Ramirez for his failure to show up at Fenway Park for a doctor's appointment during a late-summer series against the Yankees, a series Ramirez sat out after being diagnosed with pharyngitis.
Mato said Ramirez would not consent to an interview at this time, though he urged the player to do so just the day before. "If he says something," Mato said, "he feels it will be taken out of context. People misinterpret him, so he says let people think whatever they want."
But Mato, evidently with Ramirez's knowledge, offered an explanation for Ramirez's conduct.
"Nobody's heard Manny's story," Mato said. "They just say Manny wanted to leave, but that wasn't the case. There were times he did want to leave. That is true. But one thing that also is true is that when the A-Rod rumors first started, he called John Henry to let him know he wanted to stay in Boston.
"Manny obviously wasn't fazed about the whole thing as Nomar [Garciaparra] may have been. Nomar is still looking for a contract, for one thing, and they have different kinds of personalities. But it's tough for Manny to hear how people say that none of this fazed him. It did faze him.
"He doesn't deny complaining several times throughout the year. There were certain issues. He doesn't deny saying he wanted to be traded at some points. But it had nothing to do with the fans. He loves Boston. But he's an emotional guy. Things developed, and he wanted to get out."
Mato acknowledges that Ramirez's emotions were running high when the Sox hosted the Yankees over the weekend of Aug. 29-31, especially after media reports that a supposedly ailing Ramirez had gone out to eat with Yankees infielder Enrique Wilson, a longtime friend.
Though the players did see each other that Saturday evening, Mato insists the two did not have dinner. "People say Manny didn't want to beat the Yankees," Mato said. "Nobody wants to beat the Yankees more than Manny.
"Manny lives at the Ritz-Carlton. Enrique went to see him. He came downstairs to see Enrique because he doesn't want anyone in his home. He saw Enrique about a half-hour. They never had dinner. I wasn't there, but according to Manny, he started feeling sick when he was with Enrique. He went back to his room that night feeling real bad and when he woke up the next day, he felt terrible."
Sox management did not make an issue of Ramirez seeing Wilson, but they were incensed when Ramirez did not show up at the ballpark that Sunday morning to see team doctor Bill Morgan, who eventually was dispatched to Ramirez's hotel.
"They [the Red Sox] knew Manny wasn't going [to the park] -- I spoke to them," said Mato, adding that he couldn't recall which Sox official he spoke with. "I told them he was sick. They wanted him there regardless. They disagreed on whether he wanted to be there or not. One of the things I told Manny is they wanted him to be there."
After that no-show, Ramirez stirred more controversy on Labor Day in Philadelphia, when he refused to pinch hit, and the following night in Chicago he was benched by manager Grady Little. Mato said he didn't know if Ramirez was angered by the benching, but Ramirez hit .375 in September, his highest average in any month, with six home runs and 14 RBIs.
Still, when the season ended, Ramirez was placed on waivers, but no team claimed him for the $20,000 waiver price. Mato said Ramirez became upset that the process became public and that the Red Sox did not offer any public explanation (Sox officials said baseball rules prevented them from commenting on the waiver process).
But whatever distress Ramirez felt at the time, Mato insists, is no longer an issue. "What bothered Manny most was what [Kevin] Millar said," Mato said, referring to interviews in which Millar came out in favor of the Rodriguez trade. "But Kevin has reached out to Manny and they've worked it out. Kevin was put in a bad situation. Kevin didn't mean any harm by it, but what's done is done, and they've already worked it out."
New manager Terry Francona has been in touch with Ramirez, Mato said, and a meeting should take place shortly. Ramirez has plans to make a trip to Boston to visit some kids in a hospital, and may hook up with Francona at that time. It's also possible, Mato said, that if Ramirez changes his mind and attends the Patriots game tomorrow, he'll meet with Francona soon after.
It was Ramirez, you may recall, who refused then-manager Joe Kerrigan entry into his South Florida home two winters ago, leaving Kerrigan stymied at the entrance to his complex. Apparently, he's more favorably disposed toward Francona.
"He's heard a lot of good things about Francona," Mato said.
And, for whatever it's worth, Ramirez, who has consistently downplayed reports of his discontent in Boston from the time he reported to his first camp in 2001 even as he subsequently asked to be traded, is content to still be with the Sox, and hopes the fans believe that to be true.
"There is no animosity," Mato said.