SAN DIEGO -- Raucous supporters chanting "Manny! Manny! Manny!" battled for prominence over a heavy contingent of booing fans when Dodgers outfielder Manny Ramirez first stepped to the plate Friday against the Padres at PETCO Park.
Ramirez's return from a 50-day suspension, reportedly for taking the fertility drug human chorionic gonadotropin, garnered reactions ranging from jubilant to pure disgust.
"I don't think taking steroids is right," said Rich Snow, a 15-year-old Padres fan from New Jersey. "It's cheating."
Eddie Santos, 45, said fans shouldn't accuse Ramirez of using steroids without knowing the whole truth of his suspension. Ramirez has consistently deflected questions about the fertility drug, which is reportedly sometimes used to ease the transition off a steroid cycle.
"It wasn't the 'S' word [steroids]. It was something different," Santos said. "And I don't want to sound cliché, but who hasn't made a mistake?"
Santos, a Dominican Republic native, carried a Dominican Republic flag in support of Ramirez's home country.
Santos, who currently resides in Ontario, Calif., brought his nephew Waldy Mendez to Friday's game. Mendez flew from the Dominican Republic to meet his uncle in Ontario, then traveled to San Diego for Ramirez's return.
Mendez, 21, sat in the grass outside PETCO Park using a permanent black marker to make his sign, "Manny is Back."
Using his uncle as a translator, Mendez had a simple explanation for why he traveled to support Ramirez.
"He is my favorite player," he said.
Santos predicted a home run by Ramirez in the fifth inning. Ramirez walked in his first at-bat Friday and grounded out in his second and third appearances at the plate before exiting the game.
Loa Griffith, 59, donned Manny-like dreadlocks over her blonde hair and held a baseball-shaped purse across her Dodgers uniform while waiting for the game to begin. Griffith traveled from Los Angeles, a city she says is relatively accepting of Ramirez's troubles.
"I love him. He's awesome," she said. "He is the vitality of the team. He is the heartbeat."
Some fans were simply indifferent about the hype concerning Ramirez.
"He's already paid," said Jim Johnson, a Padres fan. "Let's just let him play."
Johnson, 49, said he didn't plan to cheer or boo when Ramirez stepped up to the plate.
"He's all right," Johnson said. "He's exciting for the game."
Stephanie Armijo, 27, fell into the category of indecisive fans who don't hold an opinion concerning Ramirez. She brought along three friends, all San Diego residents, and made creative signs in the hopes of finding tickets to Friday's sold-out game.
"Baseball is entertainment," she said. "Manny is just being Manny."
The group's most popular sign featured the rhyme: "It's all about the DREADS, not the MEDS."
Dodgers fan Yvonne Ramos, 49, said she marked her calendar for Ramirez's return as soon as he was suspended. Ramos traveled from L.A. with her daughter Kristen. Both fans wore "I [heart] Manny" shirts as they eagerly waited outside PETCO Park hours before the game.
"I think it's a private issue," Yvonne Ramos said of his suspension. "I don't think we were angry. We were more disappointed and sad."
The prevalence of Dodgers fans at PETCO Park didn't please Snow, who was quite vocal in his opposition of Ramirez's supporters.
"Since it's mostly Dodgers fans here, they will probably cheer for him," he said.
Snow also didn't appreciate Ramirez' tight-lipped approach to his suspension and return.
"I think he should have been more like [Alex Rodriguez] and come out and said, 'Hey, this is what I did,'" Snow said. "[Ramirez] didn't say anything."
Ramirez may have avoided questions about drug use, but he didn't downplay his own return Friday.
"Showtime, tonight," he claimed as he addressed media before the game.
And Snow knew of only one way to show Ramirez his disdain.
"I'm going to boo him for sure," he said.