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No joke: Manny ready for 'new chapter'

No joke: Manny ready for 'new chapter'

LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers are wondering if the Manny Ramirez that showed up for work Friday is an impostor.

For one thing, he showed up. The scouting report out of Boston made that no sure thing. And he was on time, another upset to form.

Instead of ripping the club owner, he toured Dodger Stadium with him. He took the podium for a press conference of 150 media at the appointed time, answered questions in two languages, offended nobody. He took batting practice, shagged fly balls, was in the starting lineup batting cleanup to face Randy Johnson and the Arizona Diamondbacks.

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"Everything we've asked," said vice president of publicity Josh Rawitch, "he's done."

But what really should have the Dodgers concerned was Ramirez's response to a question about being the long-lost bat that could carry this team deep into October.

"Let me tell you something -- I don't go deep anymore," Ramirez said. "Line drives to right field. Don't expect me to hit 40 home runs. No way."

What a sense of humor. That, as they say in Boston, is Manny being Manny.

And what does that mean?

"I don't even know how to describe it," he said of the well-worn phrase used to describe Ramirez behavior that really can't be explained.

Another example of that was the comical dialogue between agent Scott Boras and the club over Ramirez's uniform number.

He couldn't keep 24, his number in Boston, because it was Hall of Fame manager Walter Alston's and it's retired. He didn't want 28, suggested equipment manager Mitch Poole, and asked for 34, but was told that had been Fernando Valenzuela's and nobody's worn it since he was released. Then he wanted 66, which was no problem, but he changed his mind. He asked if he could have 11 as a tribute to coach Manny Mota, but decided against it. He accepted 99, only to walk into the clubhouse Friday and ask for 28, the original suggestion.

By that time, the marketing department had already begun churning out Manny gear with 99 on the back. So, 99 it is.

Before he hit the field, Ramirez also met with manager Joe Torre and agreed to cut his dreadlocks. Once again, Ramirez gave the club reason to worry exactly who this guy was when he said:

"I don't want them to treat me different than the other guys," he said in sharp contrast to the selfish reputation he developed over the years with the Red Sox. "I'll cut it. Don't worry, it'll grow back. No big deal."

Torre said he found Ramirez to be in a good frame of mind.

"He's a fun-loving guy," Torre said. "He's here to play baseball. The clubhouse is upbeat. There are a lot of smiles on a lot of guys' faces, considering there are players in there that will be impacted by not getting as many at-bats."

Torre visited a friend at a movie studio on Friday and said the reaction of Ramirez's acquisition was evident.

"Everybody's excited," he said. "All the people are talking about it. That's pretty cool. That's the kind of buzz Manny creates."

Los Angeles had quickly welcomed Ramirez, and Ramirez said he's already turned the page on his days in Boston.

"What happened in Boston is in the past," he said. "I just think blue right now. This is a new chapter in my life. L.A. is a great city. When someone asks about Boston, I put my brain on pause. I feel like I took a 5,000 pounds off my back to be here.

"Let me tell you a story. When I was 8 years old, my grandmother came to the States and my first uniform was a Dodger, No. 30. It's like a dream come true. I'll try my best to help the team any way I can and we'll see what happens."

He said he was a little nervous before his first game for a new team, "like a little kid." He said he's unfazed by suggestions that he's not a team player.

"I do not waste any energy when people talk like that," he said. "I want people to judge me on what I do, not on Boston."

But he had a message for Red Sox Nation.

"From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank all the fans of Boston," he said. "I love those guys, they have been there for me in the ups and downs. I wish everybody the best. I'm in a new city and I want to move on."

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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