Last week in Arizona I found myself in one of those "fish out of water" situations where I thought, "I don't really belong here but I sure am enjoying myself anyway." The occasion was a press conference to announce the re-signing of Manny Ramirez at the Dodgers' new spring training complex near Phoenix. Although I'm really not a big baseball fan, I'd been following the months-long negotiations between Manny and the Dodgers. How could you not? It was like a soap opera with fascinating characters: the elusive and possibly greedy star player (Manny), his hard bargaining and possibly slimy agent (Scott Boras), the frustrated and possibly angry owner (Frank McCourt), and the long-suffering manager (Joe Torre), who has dealt with countless players over the years and has probably seen it all.
It was fun seeing them all gather on a small terrace overlooking the ball park. I stood inches away from Manny and had the urge to touch his hair, or at least ask him where he gets it done. In person he's kind of cute and goofy, and likes to ham it up for the cameras. Boras, who I had pictured as a greasy, young Jerry Maguire type, turned out to be middle-aged and not so scary looking. McCourt looked very relieved, and Torre, well, you know he was probably thinking all kinds of juicy things which his stone face would never betray.
After the press conference, a bunch of us followed Manny around the complex grounds. He played some catch, took a little batting practice, greeted fellow players and attracted the attention of fans who were just getting the word that he was back. I know this is old hat for sports journalists, but for me it was kind of surreal and slightly thrilling to stand just feet away as he hit one ball after another. It seemed that he was doing pretty well for someone on his first day of spring.
And then, just like that, he was gone. The show was over. It was time to go watch the Dodgers play the White Sox. My window into the inner world of baseball was closing, but I had a great time while it lasted.
Photos: Judy Graeme