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No hype for return of Manny in L.A.

No hype for return of Manny in L.A.

Posted: Thursday, July 16, 2009 4:11 pm
By: By SOLANGE REYNER, Associated Press Writer

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Mannywood is back. So is its tenant.
Manny Ramirez returns to Dodger Stadium tonight to play his first game there since being suspended, with fans expecting to embrace the slugger like they would any superstar.
Just don’t expect the Dodgers to throw a party.
Besides reopening Mannywood — a section of seats in left field named in honor of the team’s left fielder — the team isn’t planning anything special for Ramirez, who was suspended 50 games for violating baseball’s drug policy.
Ramirez made his return to the lineup on July 3 in San Diego, and now returns home as the Dodgers open a 10-game homestand against the Houston Astros tonight.
“We’re keeping the focus on the team of which Manny is an integral part,” said Charles Steinberg, the team’s executive vice president.
“We welcome him back with open arms, but we aren’t glorifying his return. The magic of the return is the embrace from the fans that will see him again.”
Fans flocked to San Diego to watch Ramirez, donning dreadlock wigs modeled after his signature hair style. And throughout his suspension, some in Los Angeles still wore Manny’s No. 99 jersey and T-shirts that read “Free Manny.”
Mike De Land, a graduate student at UCLA, has no problem welcoming Ramirez back.
“I support Manny 100 percent. I would buy tickets in Mannywood,” De Land said.
“In some way, LA sports teams have been teams with superstars on them and they come with drama and that’s just become part of the LA sports land. I knew he brought some drama with him, but he was one of the most exciting hitters in the American League and that proved to be true here. I think it would be fun to sit in the Manny section.”
So what about his suspension?
“Manny is a human being like every other baseball player and there’s probably a culture beneath the surface that we don’t know about. I guess it didn’t totally surprise me that he participated in something like that, but I was by no means ready to drop him. I feel like there’s more that we don’t know about with other players, too, that hasn’t been reported,” De Land said.
In nine games since his return, Ramirez is batting .379 with 11 hits and three home runs. The Dodgers didn’t flail without their 12-time All Star, with Juan Pierre proving to be a key fill-in during Ramirez’ time away.
Los Angeles went 29-21 in his absence, taking a seven-game lead in the NL West ahead of the San Francisco Giants.
“It was very tough having been on the sidelines for a long time, but the guys did a great job, they’re professional players, they know how to play the game and I think everybody expected the team to be in first place and that’s where we are right now,” Ramirez said. “Juan did a great job, he also deserved to be an All-Star. He did a great job in the time that I was gone and I’m just happy he’s on my team.”
Dodgers manager Joe Torre was surprised with the first-half results.
“I think record wise, I’m probably surprised we are where we are, but when you watch the way these guys have played day in and day out, at times they look flat and then about the sixth inning, something happens and they’re in there,” Torre said.
“Teams have come back on us a number of times and we respond real well to that. Just the personality of this club has really been a positive for us.”
Steinberg said there were a significant number of requests to bring Mannywood back. For $99, fans get Mannywood T-shirts and two tickets to sit in field level seats that are located on the fair side of the foul pole and closest to Ramirez’ playing position.
“The gists of calls and e-mails were certainly supportive of reopening it,” Steinberg said, stressing that the team wasn’t willing to single out Ramirez any time in the near future besides a Manny bobblehead night on July 22 that had already been planned.
On Thursday, the first 20,000 fans who walk through the gates will get a collection poster of the “comeback kids,” which celebrates the team’s nine first-half walkoff wins.

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