PHOENIX -- I love the new Manny. He is polite and respectful. Now he sometimes looks a person in the eye when he talks to them. He smiles, and not in a devilish way, either. He says hello. When he says good-bye, he adds, "Have a nice day, bro.''
I've seen enough rebirths and resurrections in baseball to be skeptical of the new Manny. But I say let's enjoy new Manny while he lasts. Wtih all his niceties, he may be the new Pollyanna Manny. But it is still refreshing. Comeback Manny is a lot nicer guy than On-Top-of-the-World Manny.
The guy ex-Red Sox manager Terry Francona told Peter Gammons in a candid moment was "the worst human being I've ever met'' has been a dream here in A's camp so far, by all accounts. He's the first to camp and the last to leave. Maybe he understands he's having his last chance, but at least he gets that. (By the way, he claimed not to have heard of the Francona quote that appeared recently in the New York Times but said, "When I played there (Francona) treated me very good. He's a great manager. He's just got two rules, get there early and play hard.'' Ramirez looked surprised and didn't really say when I asked him if he followed those two rules but he had good answers for every other question.)
Generally, Manny's message was that he's feeling great, he's doing great and everything's great.
"Everything's perfect, man,'' Ramirez said, upgrading it a bit.
That may be an exaggeration (he does have to serve the 50-game ban, after all), but it may work as an attitude. One thing that does look to be in decent order is his swing. While he's 3 for 18, he has two home runs and looks enough like the old Manny often enough to give folks hope.
"Manny can still hit,'' one A.L. scout asserted. "I think he'll be able to hit until he's 50.''
That scout said if Manny's behind a little on a pitch, he knows how to "cheat'' (that was meant in a kind way, just to start his swing early).
The superstar attitude seems to be gone, at least for now. A's hitting coach Chili Davis recalled the wide-eyed Indians hitting prodigy when Manny came to the majors and speculated regarding Manny, "He's gone back to the humbled state. I like that about him. I'm pulling for him to be able to make it through the 50 days.''
Manny says he's actually look forward to playing "rookie ball,'' as he called it (it's actually extended spring but it is filled with kids) while the A's play their first 50 games. He's worked here with all the young kids (which is most of the rest of the A's team) on their swings, and he says rookie ball will be fun. A's manager Bob Melvin calls Manny the "Pied Piper'' because the A's kids follow him to the batting cage.
The plan is for Ramirez to stay here in Phoenix with the A's extended spring unit but occasionally to travel to Oakland to remain in touch with the team while he serves his 50-game ban. Assuming all goes well, he will be back in the majors on May 30, his 40th birthday.
I mentioned how others are skeptical. "It doesn't matter what others say,'' he said. "Why am I going to say I can't? Of course I can.''
While he expresses confidence, Manny seems to be genuinely humbled. "In life you have to appreciate what you have,'' Manny says. "Sometimes you don't appreciate it until you lose it.''
Manny isn't big on regret, though. "The bible says when you come to God all mistakes are erased,'' he said. Then he asked me if I had any regrets. (I told him yes.)
Manny smiles a lot, and he jokes a lot. He kidded several times with me that he was hoping for a nice article. (Maybe he read what I've written in the past.)
I asked him, why come back? Presumably he has enough money, and his career stats look good. So what is there to prove?
"I came back because God brought me back and I still love the game,'' Manny said. "When God opens the door, it doesn't matter what others say. Why I am going to tell him I can't? Of course I can.''
Manny says he has no doubt he can be the hitter he was in his prime, even if he's pushing 40. H expresses no doubt this seemingly long-shot comeback attempt is going to work.
"I'm just blessed, man,'' Manny said. "I look at my life. Everything's a blesssing.''