FORT MYERS, Fla. - He didn't stay around for long. But it was long enough.
One day after Manny Ramírez arrived on time, strolling into the player development complex for about a half-hour Wednesday, he had a second straight short day at spring training, taking off before the position players headed on the field for conditioning drills. He did, however, stay long enough to plop down on a bench outside the batting cages for an impromptu media session, perhaps an indication things are going to be different this season.
With a chance to have the Red Sox pick up the $20 million option year for 2009 - he has $20 million options for the next two seasons - Ramírez has appeared to have rededicated himself in the offseason, heading to Athletes' Performance Institute in Arizona for workouts, showing up at camp on time, and addressing the media.
But, he said, he's not going to demand the team pick up the option. He's not going to storm in and ask for an extension. It will be more about his on-field performance and, it seems, less about his off-field antics.
"They're the ones who've got my options, it's up to them to say, 'OK, we're going to pay,' " Ramírez said. "It's not up to me to go into the office and demand a four-year deal, or whatever. I'm going to come here to play the game, finish my year. If they want me to come back, I'll come back."
The Red Sox, of course, can wait to see how Ramírez, who turns 36 May 30, produces this season. He had an off year in 2007, only the third time in his 13 full years in the majors in which he has hit below .300. He finished the season at .296 with 20 home runs and 88 RBIs. That broke a streak of nine seasons with at least 30 home runs and 100 RBIs.
"It's great that Manny is here, in camp, on time," general manager Theo Epstein said yesterday. "He's obviously put a lot of hard work into getting ready for the season. We're focused on 2008. Obviously Manny's contract provides for the first of his options to be decided upon at the end of the year. There's a time for that, but it's certainly after the season. We're looking forward to Manny continuing to work hard and have a great year."
In his five-minute media session, Ramírez repeated "it's up to them" in reference to the contract options, because he's going to continue playing, citing Julio Franco, who had 90 at-bats last season for the Mets and Braves at 49, as a role model. Although it might not be in Boston, he's "going to go until the wheels fall off," he said.
"I want to finish my career here, but it's up to them," Ramírez said. "If that doesn't happen, hey, I'll go and play somewhere else. I know I can still play and what else can I say? It's up to them. I'm not the one who writes the checks."
That's certainly a change from Ramírez's past conversations with the club, in which he has demanded trades and was placed on irrevocable waivers. He has seemed more satisfied with being in Boston through the team's two World Series seasons.
Now he has two championships, one monster home run off the Angels' Francisco Rodriguez in the American League Championship Series, and the claim to being a "bad man," as he termed himself in the postseason last year in his first remarks to the media in a year and a half.
"It's great, man," Ramírez said yesterday. "It's a blessing. A lot of people play and they never get [a World Series win]. What can I say, man? So many people played for the Red Sox - Ted Williams - so many guys. Such great players, and they didn't get a ring. I'm just happy to be here and blessed."
Asked what inspired the new feelings on playing in Boston, Ramírez offered, "I think you start growing up and mature also. Now I'm here and I want to stay here. But it's up to them."
Well, "here" was fleeting yesterday. He hit in the batting cages, then took off for the day, making him the only person (other than the medically excused David Ortiz) not to participate in conditioning drills.
"I give Manny credit for being smart enough to sneak out of here," manager Terry Francona quipped. "Being on time a half a day is better than no days, so we're making severe progress."
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at email@example.com.