Life with Manny: Dodgers playing loose
Players say newest addition has taken pressure off them
LOS ANGELES -- Manny Ramirez relaxed at his locker about two hours before Sunday's game, his Latin music blaring for all to hear while a host of new teammates stopped by to chat in both English and Spanish.It didn't take long for Ramirez to make himself at home in Los Angeles' clubhouse with a spirit that has rejuvenated the Dodgers, about as long as it took for him to make an impact on the lineup. "He's kind of brought a new life to our team," said All-Star catcher Russell Martin. "Everybody is kind of a little bit looser, having more fun, and we just know we're going to put runs on the board with him in the lineup." Reports out of Boston said the Red Sox clubhouse became a better place with the subtraction of Ramirez, leading some to wonder if he would negatively affect the Los Angeles clubhouse, particularly with so many young, impressionable players. Because of that, Dodgers manager Joe Torre said his biggest concern was how Ramirez might rub off on Los Angeles' prized youngsters, but pitcher Derek Lowe -- Ramirez's teammate for four seasons in Boston -- did not expect that to be an issue from the start. "He's one of the easiest guys that I've ever known to get along with," Lowe said. "He's a superstar player, but he acts like he's 12. If you can't get along with him then shame on you. I knew this all along, having played with him for so many years, that his reputation and actually who he is couldn't be any farther apart, so it's been great." Pitcher Chad Billingsley agreed the presence of Ramirez has added a spark to the team, knowing one of the best hitters in the game now wears Dodger Blue. "When we added him, just L.A. and all the fans, and you just felt the excitement in the air," Billingsley said. "It gives us a spark. That's what it'll take to maybe get us deep into the playoffs, so obviously having him in the lineup changes how the opposing teams approach us. He just makes us better all around." Martin and Matt Kemp expect to start seeing more fastballs hitting in front of Ramirez, with opposing pitchers leery of putting them on base before Los Angeles' new slugger steps to the dish. Therefore, Los Angeles' top-of-the-order hitters need to identify that likelihood and be more patient, Torre said. As for Ramirez himself, despite being a 15-year veteran logging his first days of National League service time this weekend, he has needed no adjustment period to get used to his new league, which comes as no surprise to Torre. After his first four-hit game of the season on Sunday, Ramirez is now batting .615 with two homers and five RBIs in 13 at-bats through three games as a member of the Dodgers. "He's such a good hitter, and he's got such a basic approach to the game, through the middle," Torre said. "You can see where he hits the ball. That usually helps you offset the fact that you don't know these guys very well. He stays in the strike zone a long time." Casey Blake, who had never suited up for a team that rallied around one star like this before the Ramirez trade, also played his entire nine-year career in the American League before his July 26 trade to Los Angeles. Although he has not made quite the impact Ramirez has, Blake has also adjusted well to National League pitching, hitting .364 with four doubles in nine games. Blake said he has spoken to Ramirez about the task and both have handled it with ease thus far, wanting to impress their new fans while getting used to NL pitching. James Loney, a young player who Torre has described as a bit goofy, likes having Ramirez in the clubhouse because he allows players to be themselves instead of feeling they need to act a certain way to conform to the peer pressure of the locker room. Kemp also enjoys the spirit Ramirez brings to the team, celebrating with the former Boston star on Sunday after the young outfielder matched Ramirez with a homer of his own. "He just likes to have fun," Kemp said. "He hit a home run, I hit a home run, so there was a little hype. This game is exciting. Having him on our team is great, and we're just having a lot of fun right now." With the Dodgers already leading 8-3 in the ninth on Sunday, Pablo Ozuna punctuated Ramirez's opening weekend with a triple to dead center to score Ramirez, capped off by dramatically flying through the air like Superman, as Martin said, while diving into third, a play that symbolized the exuberance flowing through the club. With over 52,000 fans packing Dodger Stadium and cheering Ramirez's every step these past three games, the last two of which the Dodgers won against the first-place D-backs to remain one game back in the NL West, the debut of 'Manny-mania' has been a smashing success thus far in Hollywood. "Everybody's excited, everybody's playing hard, having fun, and that's what the game's all about," Martin said. "If you're having fun that means you're playing well and you're doing the right things. "When you play loose that's when you play the best I feel, and when a team's loose and confident they're tough to beat."
Michael Schwartz is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.