GLENDALE, AZ - MARCH 12: Manny Ramirez #99 of the Los Angeles Dodgers leaves the clubhouse with a problem in his left hamstring before a Spring Training game against Korea at Camelback Ranch on March 12, 2009 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Manny Ramirez
Updated: June 30, 2014 11:46AM
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Manny Ramirez wore an expression on his face that was difficult to interpret.
Ramirez, on Day 2 of his assignment as a player-coach with the Class AAA Iowa Cubs, had just been informed of some strong comments made about him earlier Friday by Cubs president Theo Epstein.
Strong, in a good way.
‘‘I didn’t believe it the first time I heard it,’’ Epstein told reporters at Wrigley Field, ‘‘but after repeated conversations and talking to people who are around Manny day in, day out, he’s definitely changed for the better.’’
Seated in a cramped visitors’ locker room a mighty long way from the big leagues, Ramirez, one of baseball’s most controversial superstars of the 2000s, looked a little hurt? Sad? Resigned?
‘‘I think a lot of people won’t believe that,’’ he explained. ‘‘But it’s true. I have changed.”
Ramirez ‘‘definitely was a headache’’ during his heyday as a player with the Boston Red Sox, Epstein said. More egregiously, he failed multiple tests for performance-enhancing drugs and is widely suspected of having been a longtime user. When he was arrested in 2011 for domestic battery — five months after his disgraceful exit from the Tampa Bay Rays — it didn’t come across as completely out of character.
He’d always been kind of a jerk, right?
Ramirez himself wouldn’t dispute that last sentence.
‘‘I did a bunch of things wrong,’’ he said. ‘‘I behaved different than I should have.’’
But that’s part of why Ramirez, 42, believes he has a lot to offer the Cubs’ top prospects.
Look, it would be foolish to believe the main reason Ramirez is here is that he wants to be a coach and a mentor. Although Epstein insists it’s not going to happen with the Cubs, there’s zero question Ramirez hopes to get back to the big leagues someday as a player. Long shot? Oh, yeah.
‘‘Hey, you never know,’’ he said. ‘‘As long as [I’m] here and I keep working in the outfield, you never know what could happen.’’
But this is not Manny being all about Manny. Believe it or not, the idea of being a mentor appeals to him in a very real way.
‘‘I think before acting now because I know that everything you do, any decision you make, has consequences,’’ he said. ‘‘When you’re young, you don’t think about it. I know I can help these young guys with my experience — what I’ve been through, what to do, what not to do.’’
If it means there’s even a chance 21-year-old phenom Javier Baez will be more ready for Chicago because of his time in the bushes with Ramirez, then this must be a worthwhile experiment.
‘‘It feels great to have him here,’’ said Baez, a power-hitting infielder with every physical tool in the box. ‘‘Even before he got here, everyone was so excited for him to be here. And finally he’s here. A lot of guys are already asking him questions.’’
Questions are where this whole comeback of sorts started for Ramirez. After his 2011 arrest, he says, he asked himself all the tough ones and determined that he had to change. Along with wife Juliana, Ramirez became a Christian.
He knows that doesn’t take away any of the crummy stuff he did — stuff some people are going to remember him for forever.
‘‘But I thank God for everything that happened to me,’’ he said. ‘‘I don’t regret anything I did because everything worked out for the better. It did. Now I’m blessed to be here.’’