BOSTON.Â Â When Manny Ramirez returned to Boston last night for the first time since leaving theÂ Red SoxÂ to join the Los Angeles Dodgers,Â many said the slugger seemed distant, his mind elsewhere, as heÂ arrived at Logan Airport.Â "I got a promise to keep," was all heÂ would sayÂ to a reporter who thrust a microphone in his face, paraphrasing Robert Frost,Â whom Ramirez adopted as hisÂ idol after discovering the flinty New England poet had urged readers to take the road less traveled.
Ramirez was deeply moved by an encounter with ten year-old Timmy Kavanaugh, who suffers from Osgood Schlatter's Disease, a knee ailment that primarily afflicts young boys.Â Kavanaugh was unimpressed by the slugging outfielder's records, includingÂ the 553 career home runsÂ that put him in fourteenth place all-time.Â "Any mook can take steroids and do that!" Timmy yelled as Ramirez walked by his bed at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Hollywood--and the two struck up a conversation.
As Ramirez prepared to go, he asked if there was anything he could do to ease the boy's suffering.Â Kavanaugh closed his eyes, gritted his teeth, and in a voice that was barely a whisper, said "Could you--could you run out a ground ball for me?"
"Sure, kid," Ramirez replied, his voice betraying emotion.Â "I can't do it," the boy continued, tears filling his eyes.Â "I want you to do it for me."
So groundskeepers were surprised this morning when they found Ramirez harnessed to a Fenway Park lawnmower, pulling the bulky implement around the base path to strengthen his hamstrings in anticipation of an all-out sprint down the first base line the next time he hits an infield grounder.Â
"There's no doubt Manny can do it physically," said his manager Joe Torre.Â "He just needs to focus on the job in front of him when he doesn't hit a home run and like, you know, start running."
But his former teammates aren't so sure.Â "If I made $18 million dollars a year," said former backup catcher Kevin Cash, who is unrelated to the currency Ramirez is paid with, "I'd need a lot of time to figure out what to spend it on."