DH Ramirez awaits Red Sox reception

CINCINNATI -- When the Los Angeles Dodgers left for Boston after Thursday's game with the Cincinnati Reds, Manny Ramirez was presumably on the plane.

There was no sudden injury, no unforeseen circumstance that got in the way of his first trip back to Fenway Park since the Boston Red Sox traded the then-disgruntled outfielder to the Dodgers almost two years ago amid allegations he was giving less than his full effort.
For better or worse, it appears the storyline everyone has been anticipating all season is actually going to come to pass.

So what kind of reception will Ramirez get in a city where almost everyone who has worn the uniform of the beloved home team has enjoyed some degree of deification? Will the prodigal Ramirez be remembered more for his acrimonious parting? Or will he be remembered for his seven-plus seasons in Boston, during which he batted .312, hit 274 home runs, drove in 868 runs and was the most valuable player of a World Series that had been 86 years in the making?

Ramirez still hasn't talked to the media since early in spring training, but those around him say he is looking forward to the trip, even if he doesn't quite know what to expect when he gets there.

"He is excited about it," Dodgers first-base coach Mariano Duncan said. "I talked to him the other day. I said, 'We're going to Boston,' and he said, 'Yeah, I'm very excited to go there.' But the one thing he said he wants to do there is just do what he always does, which is just play the game."

Ramirez is expected to be the Dodgers' designated hitter in all three games, as well as at least two of the three games in a subsequent series with the Los Angeles Angels in Anaheim. Dodgers manager Joe Torre said his main concern was keeping Ramirez's bat in the lineup rather than keeping Ramirez away from the catcalls of the Fenway faithful.

"But that may be an added bonus," Torre said.

Torre, who is all too familiar with the sort of hostility Boston fans can generate, has been asked several times this week how he thinks Ramirez will be received there. He has stopped short of saying what he thinks will happen, but he has been very clear about what he hopes will happen.

"For me, he was a huge part of their renaissance," Torre said. "He was a very popular player there. They embraced Manny. I have firsthand knowledge of that. They loved him. Even with all the stuff that may have been questionable at the end, he went out there and, even if it didn't always look like it, he played hard.

"I think they should welcome him back, to thank him if nothing else."

The most likely scenario is that Ramirez will receive a mixture of cheers and boos, possibly enough of both to cancel each other out.

"He played there for so long," Duncan said. "Even though a lot of people say he left there with a bad reputation, to me, those people should want to cheer for him. He won two World Series with that team and was the MVP in one of those World Series. To me, I don't think that city should forget what he did for them."

But the culture of baseball, and baseball fans, tends to vary based on geography. While fans in Los Angeles mostly welcomed Ramirez back from his 50-game suspension for violating baseball's drug policy last season, fans in Boston might not be so forgiving when it comes to the memory of Ramirez's turmoil-filled final days with the Red Sox.

"Just knowing East Coast fans, if they think you quit on them, they take that personally," Dodgers third-base coach Larry Bowa said. "Boston, New York and Philly are all like that. They have good fans, but they're obviously very critical."

Something that might be more interesting than the reaction to Ramirez in Boston is the way Ramirez reacts to it.

"Manny is the kind of guy who doesn't let anything bother him," Duncan said. "He understands when he goes onto the field that he has one job to do, and he is going to do the best he can to do that job no matter what."

But unlike one infamous game Ramirez played with the Red Sox, he won't have his headphones in his ears at Fenway this weekend, and he won't have any other means of blocking out the noise.

"He might tell you he doesn't hear the boos," Bowa said. "But anybody who tells you they don't hear boos, they're lying. ... But I don't think it will bother him. When you play in that New York/Boston environment, you get it from both ends. It might bother some guys on our team, but it won't bother him. It might motivate him."

Ramirez was out of the starting lineup on Thursday against the Cincinnati Reds and grounded out on the first pitch with the bases loaded and two outs in his only at-bat as an eighth-inning pinch-hitter. But in his three previous games, he was 7-for-12 with two homers, six runs scored and five RBIs.

If Ramirez is hot through the weekend, he'll give Red Sox fans a dose of the Manny they remember. Which might only intensify the boos.

At any rate, the highly anticipated matchup has arrived. Soon, Ramirez will know exactly what the city of Boston thinks of him.

Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.