Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Manny being...Different

Photo from Surviving Grady

Maybe it's the long, unpredictable winters. Maybe it's because we were founded by Puritans fleeing persecution. Maybe it's because we're a melting pot mixture of Irish, Italian, Portuguese immigrants, with a bit of French Canadian mixed in. Maybe it's a long tradition of liberal politics.

Whatever the combination, it's made New Englanders tolerant of those who are different, always anxious to be politically correct. As a result, we're willing to appreciate and enjoy the many inconsistencies and idiosyncrasies that swirl around us daily.

It's made us not only tolerant of oddities in our sports heroes, it's made us embrace them. Think of some of the characters that have played for the Red Sox: Bernie Carbo and his gorilla; Bill Lee and his weird ramblings on politics and pot; Luis Tiant and his quirky delivery; Wade Boggs and his chicken fetish. These players would have been vilified and ridiculed in other cities. But in Boston, they're beloved.

Part of that love comes from the fact that they could back up their insanities with good, hard play. Do you think the idiots of 2004 would have been as endearing if they hadn't come back against the Yankees? They would have been chased out of town faster than you can say "Grady Little."

Which brings me to our current favorite cartoon character: Manny Ramirez. I've given it to Manny a few times in this space. I was growing tired of the whole "Manny being Manny" routine. But something seems to have changed - not just in me, but in the minds of many of the Boston Faithful. Our attitudes have changed because Manny's seems to have changed.

The changes started to be noticed during the ALCS last fall. Suddenly Manny was speaking to the press - and actually making sense! And he did a lot of talking with his bat during the post-season, something we notice and appreciate.

But this spring has truly been a revelation. Manny spent the off-season at the Athletes Performance Institute in Arizona. He worked hard for six weeks, getting himself into the best shape he's been in years. He arrived at Spring Training on time - a first. And he came into camp with a renewed enthusiasm. Some might argue that it's all based on money - his contract is up at the end of this year, although the Red Sox can exercise two more option years. But it's clear he's out to prove that he's one of the best hitters around, determined to break records. And he's talking. Talking directly to the press and, by extension, to us, the fans. He's not using a "translator" like Millar or Ortiz or Tavarez any more. What he's revealing to us is that he's not an idiot-savant. He doesn't just have a hitter's brain - he's got a real brain. He's discussing BOOKS, for heaven's sake!

What brought about the change? Did the new leaders of our club - no longer the "idiots," but the "character guys" Theo has brought in - did they have a "come to Jesus" meeting with him? One of the things I noted on my road trip last year was how Manny was always hanging with Mike Lowell during BP and warm ups. My admiration for Mr. Lowell is well documented, and I can only think that he's been a positive influence on Manny.

There's a cynical part of me that thinks his new agent, the Evil Boras, could be behind it. Perhaps he's cultivating Manny's positive image - his "I love baseball" attitude - to make him more marketable, should the Red Sox decide not to pick up his option next year.

But if that is the case, my pure hatred for the EB has lessened a dash. Because this Manny is the one that could secure his place as a Boston icon. This Manny is endearing, charming, funny, enjoyable. He's always been enjoyable to watch at the plate, but now we're enjoying the total picture.

Manny being Different - I like that!

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Blogger Ted D said...

Beth, it's not just you natives that appreciate the occasional oddball. This southern boy does as well.

I've always loved Manny, and as long as he keeps on raking, he can keep on being as quirky as he wants.

But his new attitude, whether it's real or Boras driven, has been fun to watch. I hope the guy can retire in Boston.

7:37 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

I knew you'd agree with this one, Ted!

7:31 AM  
Blogger Ted D said...

I love me some Manny, Beth. ;)

4:51 PM  
Blogger Tex said...

I think Manny just grew up alittle...but still kept his little boy inside

3:58 PM  

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