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Trip to Fenway calls to mind Manny Ramirez’s questionable antics

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Updated: July 2, 2014 2:22AM



BOSTON — Almost everywhere you look at Fenway Park, reminders of Manny Ramirez persist nearly six years after he played his final game for the Red Sox.

There’s the batter’s box he refused to occupy for the Sox during a self-made dispute with management in 2008. And the dugout where he and teammate Kevin Youkilis faced off earlier that season over Ramirez’s reluctance to join teammates during a bench-clearing incident.

There’s the enormous space on the bench he took up when his steroid-enhanced body needed the extra room. And the door in the Green Monster he used for “where did Manny go?” bathroom breaks during pitching changes.

The Cubs’ newest minor-league coach spent nearly eight seasons brooding, pouting, malingering and clowning here.

The. Cubs’. Newest. Minor. League. Coach.

Six weeks after he was signed and six days after he joined some of the brightest hitting hopes in the organization at Class AAA Iowa, it still takes mental gymnastics to reconcile the Manny of Boston ill-repute to the Manny that Cubs president Theo Epstein believes will make Javy Baez, Kris Bryant and other kids better hitters.

“He’s a different guy,” Red Sox slugger David Ortiz said. “It was hard for me to believe until I saw it. But he is.”

This is what Epstein and the Cubs are banking on with the born-again juicer. That and the tireless preparation to hit the ball hard they hope rubs off on some of their high-upside right-handed hitters.

“No matter what people want to say about him, he’s probably one of the greatest right-handed hitters of all-time,” Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester said. “I learned a lot just watching him prepare for games. I’m sure he can offer a lot of those ideas and fundamentals to kids and maybe give them a good foundation before they get to the big leagues.”

The scrutiny would be natural for any organization risking Manny being Manny around impressionable prospects.

But it’s off the charts for an organization in which a Class AAA game on Monday — that included a Ramirez homer and Bryant grand slam — overshadows a 2-1 major-league victory Tuesday over the defending World Series champs.

Ortiz and Lester say they’re not surprised by Epstein’s move six years after he couldn’t get rid of him fast enough.

But even they don’t downplay the real behavior problems in Boston that were unprofessional at best and often destructive.

“Obviously, those things are still there,” Lester said. “When he was here, he had some problems with [manager Terry Francona]. But I think we all go through times where we struggle with different things. … I’m sure he regrets a lot of those things now.”

Ortiz: “He was great as a teammate. He just had those days where he would just be quiet and not be much of a talker.”

But Ortiz, who often talks and texts with Ramirez, stresses the change.

“A couple of years ago his wife got him into going to church and stuff. He’s a different guy now,” Ortiz said. “I just saw him [occasionally]. You hear comments from people that see him every day, and based on what they say and what you see, he’s a totally different guy.”

The one thing unchanged is the hitting approach.

“If I’m one of those young guys right there, and I see Manny going to the cage, I’d be chasing the [bleep] out of him,” Ortiz said, “because if there’s one guy that I can tell you his workout ethic is one of the best I’ve ever seen, it’s Manuel Ramirez.”

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

Twitter: @GDubCub



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