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Rice hits ‘bad example’ set by Ramirez, others

Rice tossed the ceremonial first pitch of the Little League World Series. Rice tossed the ceremonial first pitch of the Little League World Series. (Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press)
By Brian R. Ballou
Globe Staff / August 22, 2009

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WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. - Red Sox Hall of Famer Jim Rice swung away yesterday in criticism of the approach current major leaguers have to baseball, telling youngsters at the Little League World Series that players such as Manny Ramirez set a “bad example.’’

“We didn’t [have] the baggy uniforms; we didn’t have the dreadlocks; that’s not part of the game,’’ Rice said after mentioning Ramirez, who played nearly eight seasons for the Red Sox and is known for his large uniform and hair style. “It was a clean game, and now they are setting a bad example for the young guys.’’

At the same time, Rice mentioned New York Yankees Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter as he described a baseball culture dominated by huge contracts and the acquisition of wealth, with players more interested in Rolex watches than the game.

“What you see right now is more individuals; it’s not a team,’’ said Rice, a newly minted Hall of Famer who played for the Red Sox from 1974 to 1989. “Now you have guys coming in. They pick the days they want to play. They make big money. The first thing they see are dollar bills.’’

Rice made the pointed comments during a pregame talk to all 16 teams that were about to start play in the annual Little League World Series, including a squad from Massachusetts, the Peabody Western All-Stars.

Beyond the criticism of current players, his talk included practical advice.

“Work on the weakest part of your game; Johnny Pesky hit me ground balls every day,’’ he said of the former Red Sox player and coach.

Rice also urged the youngsters to look beyond athletics.

“You are a child of someone; you are not a professional baseball player now,’’ Rice said. “You may be one day, but the first thing you need to have right now is respect.’’

When Rice spoke with the players and coaches from Peabody, he could not help but poke fun at the New England pronunciation of their hometown, “Pea-Buddy.’’

“I do know of a place called Pea-Body,’’ Rice said. “I used to live there.’’

The event was scheduled to be held outside, but a constant drizzle forced it indoors to a cafeteria.

When Rice was introduced, the youngsters gave him a standing ovation.

Afterward, as several Peabody players walked toward the opening ceremony at Volunteer Stadium, they mostly described Rice’s words of advice as “inspirational.’’

Inside the stadium, music blasted from large speakers as the teams were introduced in front of hundreds of fans. At the culmination of the ceremony, the teams let loose helium balloons that matched their regional colors.

Play began at 1 p.m., but Peabody was not scheduled to play until 8 p.m., which gave them a bit of time to mingle with their families and pick up souvenirs.

The complex’s gift store had a constant line of customers extending out the front door, and the parents lined up to pick up maroon T-shirts bearing the team names on the back and matching hats.

“It was like a Filene’s Basement bridal sale in there,’’ said Dave Cravotta, president of the Peabody Little League.

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