Manny Ramirez at PETCO Park …
It was during his daily gathering with the media Friday when Padres manager Bud Black was asked about what many anticipated would be a pro-Los Angeles Dodgers crowd and, to some degree, a pro-Manny Ramirez crowd, at PETCO Park.
“This is a home game for the San Diego Padres,” Black said.
It was difficult to tell as much in the final hours leading up to Friday’s game between the home team, the Padres, and the Dodgers, who cordially welcomed Ramirez back to their lineup after his 50-game suspension.
Three hours before game time, Ramirez spoke with reporters in an interview room, and out from under sunglasses, proclaimed: “It’s Showtime.”
It sure was. The mood at PETCO Park was decidedly different. It was almost festive and not just because of the Padres annual postgame fireworks show, which is also a big hit in these parts but because of Ramirez.
It almost felt like the postseason here, with all the cameras pointing in the direction of the Dodgers’ dugout and then all of them trained on Ramirez during batting practice, getting shots of each and every swing he took.
That teammate Andre Ethier launched several pitches into orbit, over the right field fence didn’t draw nearly as much attention as Ramirez rolling over on an outside pitch, sending it weakly toward where the second baseman stands during a game.
Seriously, Tommy Lasorda could have been marching around in his birthday suit and no one would have noticed. Well, other than security.
At 5:31 p.m., a procession of police officers, each wearing a fluorescent yellow bid, made their way onto the field, marching down the third base line toward the outfield where they were met by several red-jacketed security employees.
While the field was busting with photographers and onlookers – really, the scene looked more like a postseason game than a regular-season affair featuring a team [Padres] that’s 10 games under .500 – the press box was just as busy.
The media lunchroom was turned into a workroom. The New York Times, USA Today, Boston Globe and the Asahi Shimbum are all here. Did we mention that the Dodgers pitcher, Hiroki Kuroda, gets the start? Hence the Japanese media.
Outside, fans lined up early to make their way into the stadium, many wearing Dodgers shirt, Ramirez jerseys and even a few of those deadlocked wigs that have now become commonplace at Chavez Ravine. There were signs, most in favor of Ramirez’s return.
Fans pushed themselves up against the visiting dugout to get a peek at Ramirez. Many more gathered near the side of the dugout during batting practice. They wanted to get autographs, a batting glove maybe, anything.
If is a Padres home game it sure doesn’t feel like it. And the game hasn’t started yet.
— Corey Brock, MLB.com, http://twitter.com/FollowThePadres