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Spring ahead

Ramírez arrives in Sox camp a little sooner than expected

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The inimitable, ever-obtuse, and often-tardy Manny Ramírez strolled into Red Sox camp just after 8 a.m. yesterday, accompanied by his two agents, Greg Genske and Gene Matos.

Ramírez was six days behind the rest of his position-player teammates, but one day ahead of the mandatory reporting date for major league players. He underwent a physical at the minor league complex, then went through a 2 1/2-hour workout with the rest of the Red Sox players.

As ever, Ramírez received a hero's welcome. Teammates came by his locker to extend warm greetings, and fans cheered and applauded when Ramírez ran from a batting cage to Field 2 to join the rest of his teammates for the start of the workout at 9:30 a.m.

There was little mention of Ramírez's disappearance at the end of last season (the Sox said it was because of patellar tendinitis), the ball club's aggressive offseason attempts to trade him at the request of his agents, or the front office's disappointment that he was not working out with the rest of his teammates last week.

"Can you give me some space, please?" Ramírez said when he arrived at his locker after his physical at 8:50 a.m. It was his only comment to the media on his first day of practice.

Ino Guerrero, Ramírez's personal coach, brought a chair over for Ramírez, and the two chatted while the slugger ripped open boxes of shoes (Ramírez switched to Nike this year). Ramirez shook hands with Coco Crisp, then chatted briefly with Julian Tavarez.

"Big day, huh, guys?" said catcher Doug Mirabelli as he walked past Ramírez. "What's going on here? Let him breathe, Ino."

Just after 9:15, Ramírez, wearing a blue do-rag, gray uniform pants, and Red Sox T-shirt, came out a side door and went into the batting cages to hit soft tosses from Guerrero as photographers scurried for shooting positions. He finished hitting at 9:30, in time to join his teammates stretching on Field 2, but got temporarily confused en route to the field and wound up mingling with Red Sox fans as he made his way to the workout. His reception from the fans could best be described as Lindberghesque.

"Oh my God, I touched him!," said a man who was wearing a Curt Schilling jersey and appeared to be more than 50 years old.

While Ramírez went to work, Genske made a weak effort to answer questions.

"He was ready to report and he's excited to be here," said a visibly nervous Genske.

Asked about the health of Ramírez's mother (Red Sox officials last week said Ramírez did not report with his teammates because his mother was ill), Genske said. "I don't think it's appropriate to get into the health issues of his mother. Those questions would be better addressed to Manny himself when he's ready to talk about it."

Genske confirmed that Ramírez's mother had surgery during the offseason but would not specify when the surgery occurred.

"I do know that she had a very, very serious medical issue in this offseason," said Genske, "and that is the reason why Manny is reporting when he is."

Genske and Matos both denied any knowledge of Ramirez's alleged commitment to appear at an automobile show in Atlantic City Saturday. Ramírez did not appear, but the promoter of the show contended Ramírez had made the commitment.

Asked what had changed since Ramírez's latest trade demand, Genske said, "I'm not going to comment on anything about trades or speculation or anything else. He's here right now and he's excited to be here. He's just focused on the season.

"I think it was important for both Manny and me that he get to spring training as early as he could, given his family situation."

Regarding Ramírez's knee, Genske said, "He's in great shape, perfectly healthy. His knee feels fine and he is ready to go."

Matos said Ramírez received treatment on his knee in the offseason.

Will Ramírez be talking this year?

"That's up to him, but I believe he will answer questions at some point," said Genske.

And the widespread perception that Ramírez quit on the Sox at the end of 2006?

"I'm not going to comment on somebody else's opinion and speculation of what happened during the end of last season," said Genske. "It's a new season. It's spring training. He's excited for the season. He's ready to go and so we're happy for him. I'm not going to talk about last season."

Ramírez participated in all phases of the 2 1/2-hour workout. He cracked a single up the middle shortly after stepping into the batter's box to face Travis Hughes. Later, he stepped in for some live batting practice against Daisuke Matsuzaka and took three pitches without swinging the bat. According to Matos, Ramírez has been hitting on his own since December.

After the workout, manager Terry Francona said, "We've got everybody here now and that's good. I'm more concerned about his 125 RBIs. My job is to win games, not to point out every flaw in everybody's personality .

"I don't think it was a distraction. It's not like we didn't do a drill because he wasn't here. I think we handle things like this better than people realize. You show up and play. This is nothing that's new and nothing that can't be handled."

Veteran third baseman Mike Lowell was careful with his words when asked about Ramírez.

"It's not the way I would do things," said Lowell. "But I've never played for a manager that every decision he made and what I thought are the same. We're different personalities. I don't think it's good or bad, it's just the way things are.

"I think we all would be very naive to think that if Manny wasn't the extraordinary hitter he is, he's getting a little more leeway than the next guy. I think if you reach a point where you cross the line or the integrity of your teammates, it'll be felt. But four days in spring training? I don't really see it as that big a deal."

"We just want him here, so now he's here," said Wily Mo Peña. "Everybody was happy. He's ready."

David Ortiz added, "Manny always comes in in shape. He always works, man. He knows how to do his thing. He keeps it real."

Asked if he was bothered by Ramírez coming in long after the rest of his teammates, Ortiz said, "It doesn't bother me. I think everybody's cool."

There. Everything's cool. Just another day in Mannyworld.

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