Monday, May 11, 2009
Favorite son leaves trail of dismay in Washington Heights
NEW YORK -- The George Washington Trojans barked out the numbers in unison with each jumping jack, crisply completing their warmups without any direction from their coaches.
They looked the part of the proud high school baseball powerhouse, the reigning city champs who could brag of being the alma mater of Manny Ramirez -- at least before Thursday.
Ramirez's old neighborhood of Washington Heights in upper Manhattan was still buzzing Friday with the news that a favorite son was suspended a day earlier for using a banned substance.
Mike Antonio, a junior shortstop for George Washington, worried how perceptions may change.
"They're going to start to think Coach trains us to do it," he said, standing on the field after another lopsided win.
Longtime Trojans coach Steve Mandl was confident his players would still embrace the value of hard work over cheating, no matter what their famous predecessor was caught doing.
"He didn't learn what he did here," said Alibay Barkley, a senior first baseman and major league prospect.
It's just that all the years Mandl has known Ramirez, he never doubted his former star's commitment to those lessons.
"If you look at his career, he's been pretty steady," Mandl said. "He's always been a big, strong kid, even in high school. He's always had great numbers. He's always had great power.
"So that's the baffling thing. It's not a little guy that had warning track power. ... He hits the ball 900 feet to begin with. That's why I'm a little bit confused, knowing him and his personality. That's what didn't make sense."
To many residents in Washington Heights, Ramirez's story was their own. Everybody seems to know somebody who knew him -- or at least saw him dominate at George Washington before he was drafted in 1991.
Like Ramirez, Jose Estrella came to the neighborhood from the Dominican Republic. His cousin played in high school with the slugger. Estrella followed Ramirez's exploits from the outset of his major league career.
"Now I don't know if he was clean when he started," he said.
"Sad" was how Estrella described the reaction in Washington Heights.
"A lot of people thought he was good naturally," he said.
No matter how many stars are ensnared by drug scandals, it's hard to quash the hope that some may be clean.
"Another one" is what 14-year-old William Taveras thought when he heard the news Thursday about Ramirez. Yet the Yankees fan can still say, "At least Jeter is not."
Walter Suazo, who was tossing a baseball with Taveras at a Washington Heights park, had his own wish: "I hope Pujols is not."