Fans embrace Ramirez in homecoming

Manny embraced in homecoming

LOS ANGELES -- Before the Dodgers' public-address announcer could even say Manny Ramirez's name prior to his first at-bat Thursday, the Dodger Stadium crowd was already on its feet chanting, "Manny, Manny, Manny."

It was quite the homecoming for the slugger, who received nearly universal support from Dodgers fans in his first game at Dodger Stadium since his 50-game suspension for the use of performance-enhancing drugs.

"Like I've said before, we have the best fans in the world," said Ramirez, who flied out to right in his first at-bat, struck out in his next two at-bats and finally broke through with an eighth-inning single in his final at-bat.

So while Ramirez's bat was quiet in the Dodgers' 3-0 loss to the Astros, the crowd of 45,970 was not, especially in the "Mannywood" section in left field that sold out its allotment of 500 tickets that also included a Mannywood T-shirt.

"It's crazy in there," said Dodgers fan Zack Cazdoy, who sat in the section after buying tickets last week. "I didn't know what to expect before the game but everyone was cheering. I didn't hear a single person booing."

Fans sitting in and near the Mannywood section wore Ramirez jerseys, T-shirts and even dreadlocks to show their support for the mercurial left fielder. Even the concession lines were nearly empty every time Ramirez was coming up to the plate.

"It's real exciting," said Kenny Roper, who sat in the Mannywood section. "He brings so much to the team. But it's also up to the other guys around him to help out the team. But he makes everyone better."

Several fans noted that the atmosphere was much different than a typical Thursday night game at Dodger Stadium. Even Juan Pierre, who was Ramirez's replacement during his suspension, was given a standing ovation when he was announced as a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning.

But the loudest cheers were aimed toward Ramirez, who many fans felt helped turn around the franchise by leading the team to the National League Championship Series last season.

"He just brings a lot of energy to the ballpark," said longtime Dodgers fan John Tunick, who was wearing a Ramirez jersey. "I haven't seen anybody bring so much spirit, energy and excitement to this ballpark since the '80s. He's turned this place around."

Dodgers manager Joe Torre simply wasn't surprised by the amount of support Ramirez received in his first home game since May 6.

"Manny endeared himself to this city, this ballpark and this team," Torre said. "The fans just have been so passionate about his presence here."

But Torre was also quick to point out that he does not condone Ramirez's actions that led to the 50-game suspension.

"There's no question that nobody says it's OK to violate rules," Torre said. "He took his punishment. The fans come out here to be entertained. I'm not trying to knock the fans, but they understand that he did something wrong and paid the price and they look forward to watching him play baseball."

Torre was correct in his assertion, based on the feelings of the fans interviewed during the game such as Tunick.

"I'm not in love with the fact that it doesn't look good on the franchise, but it seems to be part of the culture and he admitted to it," Tunick said. "I'm here to watch baseball. I'm not here to be a judge of anybody."

Torre, though, admitted that one of the reasons why Ramirez receives so much support is because of his quirky personality that has made him a fan favorite throughout his 17-year career.

"It's a unique combination he has," Torre said. "If you didn't know him and you went off what you saw in clips, you would think he was a pain in the neck. But the unique thing is that he has fun and his business practice is very serious."

And as for Ramirez's reason for why he had so much support Thursday night?

"This is my town," said a grinning Ramirez.

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