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No one really knows what to expect from Red Sox fans this Friday night. With the Red Sox hosting a three-game interleague series against the Los Angeles Dodgers this weekend, every fan in Red Sox nation is trying to decide how to react when they see Manny Ramirez in Fenway Park again.
We’ll probably see a lot of old-timers and Red Sox purists in the stands, some booing, some folding their arms and treating his presence as they would any anonymous player on the Dodgers’ roster.
Then again, we’ll probably see a lot of 20-somethings give him a steady round of applause for the guy they grew up watching as the team’s best hitter during the team’s best decade any fan has seen.
We’ll even see a handful of drunken college kids wearing No. 24 Sox jerseys and “Don’t worry, be Manny” t-shirts, cheering on the return of the guy they wish had never left.
Because Manny’s departure from the Red Sox was unlike that of any other superstar, his return will be too. Pedro Martinez’s departure stung, but it was strictly financial, after a smart move by the Mets took away Pedro’s chance to retire in Boston. And now, six years later, Martinez was hailed as a hero, throwing out the first pitch of the season in Fenway.
The same can be said about the separation of Roger Clemens and the Boston Red Sox. He had a legendary start to his career with the Sox, and left amidst contract difficulties, ultimately to become the ace for the New York Yankees. And what happened when he made his final career start in Boston while wearing pinstripes? Fans in Fenway gave him a standing ovation as he walked off the mound, and didn’t stop cheering until he came out for a curtain call, tipping his Yankees hat to a crowd of Red Sox fans.
The trade of Manny Ramirez to the Los Angeles Dodgers almost two years ago is one of the most controversial divorces between the Red Sox and a superstar in the team’s history.
Everyone remembers Manny’s antics in Boston: bringing sunflower seeds and headphones into left field, taking a pee-break in the Green Monster during a pitching change, or slapping high-five with a fan while making a running catch.
Everyone remembers Manny’s heroics in Boston. He had walk-off home runs in the post-season, joined the 500-HR club, held down the clean-up spot for the best third and fourth hitter combination of the decade, and invented the saying that made everyone in the city love him: “When you don’t feel good and you still get hits, that’s when you know you are a bad man.”
Everyone, also, remembers Manny’s downfall in Boston. Faking injuries, watching three easy strikes cross the plate as a pinch hitter in a key series against the Yankees, fighting with Kevin Youkilis in the dugout during a game, fighting with a 61-year-old Red Sox employee over a ticket mishap, and saying the magic words that’ll get any athlete kicked out of the city: “Boston doesn’t deserve me.”
The big question is which Manny Ramirez Sox fans will remember when he shows up in Fenway Park wearing a Dodgers uniform. It has been two years, and while he did do a lot to build a legacy for the team, he also did a lot to disrespect it, and it’ll be interesting to see which is more important to ticket holders on Friday night.
What might be more interesting is what the always-unpredictable Manny does on the field when he comes back. We all know he’s going to give David Ortiz a big hug, and maybe shake hands with Mike Lowell, Jason Varitek, and Terry Francona (all class-act guys).
But what else will he do? When he hears boos and trash talk from the crowd, will he respond? If he gets hit by a pitch, will he start a bench-clearing brawl? When he sees Kevin Youkilis, will he swing at him again? Will he seek out that clubhouse employee, and swing at him again?
More importantly, will he come back and swing the bat like we remember him hitting in Boston?
With a division leading Dodgers team that is showing up with young sluggers like Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp, along with young pitching powerhouses Clayton Kershaw and Jonathan Broxton, we hope Manny doesn’t remember how to hit in Fenway. Expect an exciting, tough series between two playoff-caliber teams that are both capable of winning close games.
As for Manny Ramirez, expect him to play DH (as the Dodgers will be glad to put one of their capable fielders in left, for once), expect at least half of the fans to boo him for at least the beginning of the game, and expect the door to the Green Monster to be locked if Manny suddenly has to use the bathroom.