Ramirez about to find out about baseball in Iowa
Manny expected to report to the Cubs' Triple-A team this week as player/coach
DES MOINES -- Manny Ramirez will have homemade banana bread, long bus rides and Saturday farmers markets to look forward to once he arrives at Principal Park. And the Iowa Cubs will be getting someone who loves to hit.
Ramirez, signed as a player/coach, has yet to report to the Cubs' Minor League team, but could show up sometime this coming week. The 42-year-old slugger has been working out at the team's complex in Mesa, Ariz., and talking hitting with anyone willing to get up early.
"As soon as he gets there, he goes to the gym, does his work, and after that, he puts his elbow guard on, batting gloves on and picks up his bat and he goes to the cage," Welington Castillo said of Ramirez. "He just wants to hit."
Castillo, the Cubs' catcher, met Ramirez in Mesa while on rehab from a left rib cage strain, and they spent about 10 days together. Both reported around 5:30 a.m. every day.
"He'd say, 'Hey, come at 7:15 to the cage with me,'" Castillo said. "If he sees something, he'll say it to you -- 'You have to do this, get on top of the ball, throw your hips, let the ball come deeper,' stuff like that which is simple but it means a lot hitting-wise."
And Ramirez doesn't just talk to Castillo. He'll work with everyone, including the newly signed rookies.
"What I see in him, I see another person," said Castillo, who was with the Iowa team on a rehab assignment. "He's very humble. I think [being in the Minor Leagues] won't bother him. The only thing he cares about is to get better. He's a hard worker -- I've never seen somebody who works as hard as he does. That's a guy who made a lot of money in the big leagues, he's played almost 20 years, he's had success. He's working really hard."
Ramirez spent nearly 20 years in the Major Leagues with the Indians, Red Sox, Dodgers, Rays and White Sox. He finished with 555 home runs, a .312 lifetime batting average, 2,574 hits, and 1,831 RBIs. A 12-time All-Star, nine-time Silver Slugger winner, his career was tarnished by a 50-game suspension for violating baseball's drug policy.
In 2011, he was informed of another violation to Major League Baseball's drug policy, and chose to retire rather than face a 100-game suspension. He also was arrested and charged with domestic battery after an incident with his wife. The charges were later dismissed after his wife refused to cooperate with the investigation.
Castillo knew about Ramirez's past, and they talked about it.
"He says, 'I learned from my mistakes,'" Castillo said. "He's a brand new guy. It's unbelievalbe to hear that guy talk, after all the stuff he did in the past. Now he's a different person. I know he'll be a really good help for those guys.
"He said, 'I was blamed before. I thought all I did was good, but now I'm a different person, and I see what I did in the past was wrong. Now, I want to pass that to the young guys.'"
Ramirez doesn't act as if he knows it all either. He asked Castillo to watch video of his swing, and they broke it down.
"I would like to have had a guy like that next to me my whole life in baseball," Castillo said.
Iowa hitting coach Brian Harper also is eager to have Ramirez join the team.
"I'm looking forward to the young hitters seeing how hard a professional hitter like him works," Harper said. "And, I want to hear his thoughts on hitting. I like talking hitting."
One player who Castillo feels will definitely benefit from having Ramirez around is top prospect Javier Baez, who did not get off to a good start with Iowa, and was batting .226.
"[Ramirez] will be a good help for him," Castillo said. "[Baez] is young, he's got all the talent in the world. I think Manny will pass a lot of positive things to him -- and to anybody. Who better than Manny to help those guys -- what kind of hitter he was, what kind of hard worker he was."
But there's a big difference between traveling first class in the big leagues and eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the Minors. Plus, will Ramirez be OK in a reserve role? The Iowa Cubs play National League rules; there is no designated hitter.
"He said [the bus rides are] the only thing that'll be a little bit hard but I think he'll get used to it," Castillo said. "From what I hear, he's not even close to what kind of person he was. He's a Christian guy now, he's changed a lot.
"He's ready to pass his knowledge to young guys like Javy and [Arismendy] Alcantara and all the guys here," Castillo said. "He says, 'I'm ready to help. I'm open to help. I did what I did in the big leagues and I just want to help.' He's ready. He doesn't take anything for granted. He says, 'I want to set a good example.'"
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.