FORT MYERS, Fla. -- "Mirabelli, I'm a businessman," Manny Ramírez yelled across the clubhouse to Doug Mirabelli with a smile. "Got to make a little money."
Ramírez sat down at his locker, laughter and incredulity still marking the faces of his teammates.
And then it came, the first words spoken by the enigmatic Red Sox slugger all spring to a member of the media, "My neighbor's."
There's shock, there's confusion, and then there's Manny Ramírez acknowledging that he's helping his neighbor by selling a Jenn-Air grill on eBay.
Only moments before Ramírez walked into the Red Sox clubhouse, David Ortiz's booming laugh had filtered through the air, the big man nearly keeling over with merriment. The television, turned all the way up, had shown a segment of ESPN's "Pardon the Interruption" devoted to a curious story that had been making the rounds all day. A grill had turned up on eBay with a bizarre message and a series of seven photographs, among which were two of Ramírez standing next to the silver piece of heavy-duty cooking equipment.
"Hi, I'm Manny Ramirez," reads the ad, listed under the seller "mannyramirez1524," a member since March 18. "I bought this AMAZING grill for about $4,000 and I used it once . . . But I never have the time to use it because I am always on the road. I would love to sell it and you will get an autographed ball signed by me =) Enjoy it, Manny Ramirez."
So in the interests of journalistic integrity (and with an extreme curiosity), a reporter approached Ramírez. (OK, it was this reporter.)
Is the grill yours? Is the ad true?
He said it wasn't. He agreed about a week ago to help out a neighbor in Weston, Fla., by advertising the grill as his own to drive up the price.
Well, you could say that tactic worked, but neither Manny nor his neighbor is likely to collect on the bids that were being posted last night. With someone clearly having fun with Ramirez's gambit -- would his teammates be above suspicion? -- the bidding was up to, ahem, $99,999,999 around midnight last night.
And the only reason it didn't go higher was that the eBay bid window couldn't handle more digits.
The mysterious cyber-bidders may have been pranking, but earlier in the day, Ramirez was talking -- for real.
That's exceptionally rare for a man who makes it a policy to avoid the media, and hasn't spoken to them since he arrived at spring training -- last season.
Asked how he was feeling this spring, he answered, "Good."
Then the baseball questions came, and the conversation slowed considerably. He didn't want to talk baseball. He didn't want to talk about Boston or trade requests. He didn't really want to talk at all.
"I'm just here to play the game and enjoy it," Ramírez said. "All the things that I do, I enjoy. I'm not here to talk to [the media]. I'm here to play the game.
"That's me, you know. The same. Everywhere I go is the same."
He wanted to "have fun with his friends," rather than explore his place in baseball history or explain how he wanted his fans and his critics to see him. He was polite, not expansive, and gave his head quite a workout with all the shaking and nodding, mostly to indicate the negative.
So when will he talk? When will he fill the ears of all those people clamoring for the wisdom of Manny?
When will he say whether or not he requested trades all those years? When will he let everyone know just what it is about the Red Sox that isn't to his liking?
"When I retire," Ramírez said. "I don't need to talk to you guys. Because I'm a private person. I'm good."
That was it. But it was something, far more than he's said all spring, more than he said all of last season. Not much about baseball. A little about his personality. Much more about that ad.
So for those of you in the market for a grill, you have seven days and counting. Item No. 120099426399. But you might need $100 million, to get it straight from Manny Ramírez's neighbor's house to yours.