Manny Ramirez blasted his second home run of the season for the Round Rock Express – a game-winning solo shot – in a 7-6 win over the Omaha Storm Chasers in Omaha on Friday night in front of 7,389 fans, many of whom cheered when the ball disappeared over the left field wall.
Ramirez went 3-for-5 on the night with two singles and the home run. The long ball came on an 84 mph fastball from Francisley Bueno. Bueno changes speeds with his fastball, and he took something off this particular pitch, so Ramirez thought it was a change-up.
"I wasn’t looking for any [certain] pitch," Ramirez said after the game. "I was just looking for a good pitch to hit."
Ramirez, 41, is hitting .286 in six games since being signed by the Texas Rangers to a minor league contract. He was playing in Taiwan until June 19, where he was hitting .352 with eight home runs and 43 RBIs. But the 12-time All-Star who has 555 home runs in the big leagues (he's 14th on the all-time list) isn’t expecting instant success in Triple-A.
He says the hardest throwing pitchers in Taiwan top out at 91 mph, so he knows he needs to make an adjustment to pitchers who can hit the mid-90s in Triple A. In fact, if you ask him how close he is right now to where he needs to be, he’ll give you an honest answer.
"I don’t know, I still need a lot of work, but that’s why I’m coming in early and going to the cage with the hitting coach," Ramirez said. "I’m trying to get there little by little every day."
It’s too early to tell whether or not he’ll be able to catch up to a quality fastball, especially at the big league level, but he’s still an imposing figure.
"As he showed tonight, he’s just a presence when he steps into the box," said Omaha manager Mike Jirschele after the game. "He’s able to turn a game around and he did it tonight. He needs to get his timing down, but he’s an experienced hitter. He knows what he’s doing and he knows what he’s looking for."
Ramirez was philosophical when asked about his current approach.
"I’m just trying to go out there and enjoy every moment," he said. "Doesn’t matter the result – that’s what I put in my mind. I just want to go out there and enjoy the game with the guys and let the game dictate itself."
Ramirez has been suspended from the game twice for testing positive for a banned substance. He retired in 2011 after the second positive test, but he came back and served a reduced suspension while playing in the minor leagues for Oakland in 2012.
Often described as polarizing, former teammate David Ortiz says Ramirez is a changed man since their playing days in Boston.
"He’s a totally different person," Ortiz said in an interview on WEEI in Boston recently. "I’m really happy for him and happy for his family and the way he is doing things now."
A recent article on Buzz Feed makes the same case, saying Ramirez mentored teammates in Taiwan, worked out hard and spent time reading the Bible. The same article says he refused an interview request with Sports Illustrated and didn’t grant any foreign interviews while he was there.
He has however spoken to the press in Omaha after both games he has played there.
When we asked him what he thought about fans from the opposing team cheering for him when he hit the game-winning home run, he failed to make the connection.
"Those were our team fans, no?" he asked. "I thought maybe they were fans from Texas."
Maybe he is just not accustomed to opposing fans cheering for him.
He has certainly brought more people to the ballpark, but both gates were already expected to be high. It would seem that Omaha fans just recognized the enormity of the moment and gave Manny his due.
Maybe it was just Omaha being Omaha.