PHOENIX – It's a new era for the Oakland Athletics as the always entertaining and controversial Dominican baseball player Manny Ramirez arrived in town to start his new gig with the East Bay team and prove he "can still play."
The A's are hoping he can return to the level that made him one of the most feared hitters in baseball. Ramirez got off to a good start.
After taking batting practice, in which he hit seven home runs off A's coach Mike Gallego, Ramirez addressed the media accompanied by his wife, Juliana, and two sons, Manny Jr. and Lucas.
"I was kind of nervous coming to the stadium," Ramirez said. "I'm here because God brought me here. I know a lot of people are, 'Oh, he's not going to play anymore,' but you know something? When God says that they're going to open the door for you, no matter what anyone says, the door is going to open. That's why I'm here."
Juliana occasionally put her hand on Ramirez as he spoke about difficulties — he did not address specifics — he's endured since telling Major League Baseball he was retiring a week into the 2011 season. He was arrested last September for allegedly hitting his wife during a domestic altercation.
"I made some mistakes and I want to show my children I can correct them," Ramirez said. "I was about to lose my family. My wife brought me to church. She changed my environment and I found a lot of good people out there."
The 12-time All-Star signed a minor league deal with the A's on Monday that's worth $500,000 if he's added to the big league roster. He will be allowed to participate in spring training games and exhibition games scheduled in Japan, but must serve a 50-game suspension for his second positive drug test before he can play in the regular season for Oakland.
"Sometimes you don't appreciate what you have until you lose it, and that's what happened to me," Ramirez said. "Now I appreciate my family more, my kids, the game. I've got a beautiful wife, I've got my kids, my family and I'm getting my career back. It's been a blessing."
Ramirez had retired from the Tampa Bay Rays last season rather than serve a 100-game suspension.
"I'm thankful that I have a job," Ramirez said. "At least I can still play baseball in the minor leagues and work on things."
Ramirez, the career leader in postseason home runs (29) and RBIs (78), said he has no expectations other than to show he can play.
A's manager Bob Melvin said someone of his stature could influence the rest of the team.
"He can be a great example with his work ethic," Melvin said. "We have some young kids and, who knows, maybe something will rub off."
Ramirez is 14th on baseball's all-time home run list with 555 and 18th on the all-time RBIs list with 1,831 and is a career .312 hitter.
"I think guys are excited to see what Manny Ramirez is all about," Melvin said. "He said all the right things; that he was thankful to be here. He said 'you will have no problems with me,' and I appreciated that."
Ramirez will wear the number 1 — as in a new start — because his first choice, 7, belonged to infielder Adam Rosales.
"God made the world in seven days," Ramirez said. "And everything starts with one."
There was a buzz in the A's clubhouse the moment Ramirez walked in and sat in front of his locker. His new teammates warmed up to him quickly as introductions were made around the room.
Everybody stopped what they were doing to watch Ramirez take batting practice. Melvin was certainly impressed in the little he saw of it.
"I saw all I needed to see," he said. "I saw the one ball he hit off the center field wall. He truly is one of those guys who has the mechanics of his swing right away. Rarely do you see him off balance."
Notes: Brett Anderson and Dallas Braden, each coming off season-ending surgeries, threw side sessions, while tentative opening day starter Brandon McCarthy threw to hitters for the first time. "They both looked like regular pitchers instead of guys on rehab," Melvin said. "McCarthy really went at it and he looks to be in midseason form." ... Ramirez was slotted into a hitting group that also includes former teammates Coco Crisp and Jonny Gomes. ... RHP Ryan Cook continues to impress. "I look for him to compete for a spot in the bullpen," Melvin said. "He has an exploding fastball and movement on top of that."
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.