Drug-tainted Los Angeles Dodgers slugger Manny Ramirez was welcomed back to baseball on Tuesday in his comeback via the minor leagues.
Ramirez, easing back into playing shape after a 50-game drug suspension, suited up for the Albuquerque Isotopes as they beat the Nashville Sounds 1-0.
He played four innings and was hitless in two at-bats. The capacity crowd of 15,321 was the largest in Albuquerque’s baseball history.
Fans lined the walkway from the clubhouse as Ramirez entered the field. They gathered near the dugout, clustering for autographs, and seemed ready to forgive Ramirez for violating baseball’s drug rules.
“People love me everywhere I go,” Ramirez said before the game. “I’m excited to bring a lot of joy to a lot of people here. I feel good. I’m happy that I’m here.”
There were scattered boos before Ramirez batted leading off, but cheers grew louder as he approached the plate. Flashbulbs blinked from around the ballpark during his two at-bats.
He struck out swinging against Nashville pitcher Manny Parra and then grounded out in the third.
“He looked good,” Isotopes manager Tim Wallach said. “Talking to him after, he said he saw the ball well. He felt good. Those are the two important things.”
Ramirez played left field for the Dodgers’ Triple-A affiliate.
Wallach said Ramirez would play five innings yesterday and seven today.
“I haven’t played in 50 days, but I’m going to catch up slowly, day by day,” Ramirez said.
In Chicago, Dodgers manager Joe Torre said he was thrilled that his suspended slugger was playing ball again.
“I don’t care what the results are, I just want to get him in game situations,” said Torre, whose team was playing the White Sox. “As much work as you do in the weight room and running on the field, it’s still not the same as playing in a game. It’s the game situation that sort of changes the atmosphere and your approach. I need to get him a number of games to get into the competition.”