FORT MYERS, Fla. - David Ortiz's surgically repaired right knee passed its first test yesterday morning near the batting cage on Eddie Popowski Field, the practice diamond named after the longtime Red Sox third base coach.
That's where Ortiz went airborne at the sight of Sean Casey, the new backup first baseman who received a combination body slam/man hug from Big Papi.
"I thought I was in WWE wrestling or something," said Casey, who has known Ortiz since they played against each other in the minor leagues more than a decade ago. "I didn't know what to think. I got under him pretty good, so he didn't hurt me."
Yesterday was the official reporting date for Sox position players, and it contained all the elements you might expect - Coco Crisp talking about trade possibilities, Julio Lugo saying how much better he feels in his second go-round, Mike Lowell teasing Terry Francona in front of the television cameras, Ortiz discussing the condition of his knee, Dustin Pedroia taking some hacks against Ino Guerrero, J.D. Drew tracking fly balls in the outfield.
Then there was the unexpected: Manny Ramírez keeping his word about arriving on time, abruptly halting what has been a colorful will-he-or-won't-he story line during his eight seasons with the Sox. Ramírez's appearance was a brief one - he showed up at the minor league training facility a little after 1:30 p.m., after most of his teammates had left and the clubhouse was closed, stuck around for about a half-hour, and left in a white Cadillac Escalade, the only fleeting glimpse he offered to photographers thwarted by tinted windows.
When Alex Cora showed up later in the afternoon to drop off his stuff, the Sox had a full complement of players on hand, with the exception of nonroster outfielder Bobby Kielty, whose wife is scheduled to have a baby Saturday.
Such solidarity does not guarantee the Sox will repeat as World Series champions, of course. But it represents a break in pattern for Ramírez, who is entering the final season of his eight-year deal with the Red Sox and said he would like them to pick up the $20 million options they hold on the 2009 and '10 seasons.
Ramírez arrived four days before reporting date in 2001, his first spring training with the Sox. But he made up for that show of punctuality in subsequent years, as this brief rundown shows:
2002 - Manny showed up a day ahead of the reporting date, then missed the first workout, after pleading with new owner John W. Henry to trade him. "I hate the manager," Ramírez said of Joe Kerrigan. Kerrigan was soon fired.
2003 - Manny arrived 20 minutes after he was supposed to be dressed for the first workout, and five minutes late for the first meeting in which new general manager Theo Epstein and manager Grady Little addressed the club.
2004 - Manny showed up on time for team physicals, but after a winter in which the team placed him on irrevocable waivers and tried trading him to the Rangers for Alex Rodriguez, he called Henry and the owners "white devils," as Seth Mnookin recounted in his book, "Feeding the Monster."
2005 - After winning the World Series, Manny was the first player on the field on the first day of workouts. He said he was a happy man.
2006 - Manny did not show up until March 1, the reporting date mandated by the collective bargaining agreement, six days after the team had begun workouts. The club said it gave him permission to work out on his own. Major League Baseball was miffed because it thought Manny would play in the World Baseball Classic. Manny had threatened, at the end of the previous season, to boycott spring training if he wasn't traded over the winter.
2007 - The year of the antique car show. Manny reported six days after teammates had begun working out. Representatives from the car show, in Atlantic City, said Manny had committed to appearing and was advertising he would be there. Manny didn't go to the car show, but didn't come to camp, either. He said his mother was ill.
What does it all mean? In terms of performance, nothing. Ramírez is on track to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, one who enters this season within 10 of the 500-homer milestone. Injuries have affected his performance the last two seasons, but his spectacular October (.348, 4 HRs, 16 RBIs in 14 games) left little room to debate his self-analysis that he is a "bad man."
Yesterday, Ortiz already was lobbying for the Sox to bring Ramírez back.
"At one point, this team is going to have to do something about it because there's not a hitter like Manny out there," said Ortiz. "Manny is the kind of guy that you definitely want to have on your team, because of all the success he's had in his career and what he's done and what you expect from him. Manny is the type of guy that when he's healthy, you know what you're going to get from Manny."
Ramirez turns 36 May 30.
"From Manny, we need to stay away from injuries," Ortiz said. "Manny, from what I hear, he's preparing himself to be ready to go this year. I definitely know that Manny is going to have one of those monster seasons that he used to have."
Ortiz's own health is of some concern to the Sox, of course. He's coming off surgery Nov. 6 for a torn meniscus in his right knee. There's particular scrutiny because of his age (32) and size (he says he weighs 268 pounds, the same he weighed last year and, incidentally, 38 pounds heavier than the weight listed in the Sox media guide).
"I'm good. I'm still working. I have a little way to go on my knee," Ortiz said. "I'm OK. I definitely feel way better. I don't have that clicking and that pain that I was having before. That's the most important thing. I don't have to go through all that again."
While his knee problems did not keep him from putting up huge numbers again last season - a big-league-best .445 on-base average, a .621 slugging percentage, a career-best .332 batting average, and 35 home runs (down from 54 the year before) - Francona said the Sox have admonished Ortiz that he has to stay mindful of his conditioning.
"We talk to David about that," Francona said. "I can tell David anything, and we do. Take care of yourself because you get to an age, and he's a big boy. We don't want to hold our breath every time he slides. He's had a couple of knee issues. He understands he has to take care of himself."
Francona said he didn't watch Ortiz work out yesterday. "I didn't make him undress in the parking lot," he said. "He looked OK. He'll go through everything [the drills]. We'll keep an eye on him."
Gordon Edes can be reached at email@example.com.