DES MOINES, Iowa -- Politicians roll into Iowa every four years to get a head start on their presidential campaigns.
Manny Ramirez, Iowa's newest resident, isn't running for anything. In fact he's seemingly running away from some things, trying to put his reputation as a convicted cheat and self-centered jerk in the rear-view mirror.
On Monday Ramirez made his home debut as player-coach for the Iowa Cubs, knowing this season is likely his last shot at redemption in the game he purportedly loves.
Ramirez batted sixth as the designated hitter in Monday night's game against Omaha.
Considering his checkered past, Ramirez seemingly has nowhere to go but up. The only one with anything to lose here is Chicago Cubs President Theo Epstein, who made the head-scratching decision to resurrect the career of his former Red Sox employee.
"The downside is if he screws up, I'll wear it," Epstein said. "But I don't think I'm going to. He's a minor league coach and a minor league player. We can move on if we need to. I don't think we're going to need to. The upside, I think, is much greater than the downside."
In a pregame news conference, Ramirez reiterated his comments from last month in Boston, calling his new role a "challenge," praising God and saying he just wants to help young players.
"Everything in life is not about money, it's not about fame, it's not about, 'Oh, I was in the big leagues,'" he said. "When you come here and you can help a young player grow up and go to the next level, that's such a joy."
Some believe Ramirez is only trying to find his way back to the majors, and the coaching part is for show. Epstein has said it won't be with the Cubs, but Ramirez obviously is looking for some team to take notice, or he wouldn't have taken a month at their spring training complex in Arizona getting his timing down.
Had Epstein told Ramirez he wanted him to coach and not play, would he still be here?
"Just to come and help out?" Ramirez said. "Why not?"
Then why is he playing?
"That's what (Epstein) said -- 'coach-player,'" Ramirez said. "It was his idea, yeah. They were honest. I'm only going to be playing once a week."
Ramirez has been with the Cubs for only five days, so it's too soon to say what kind of impact he'll have on the prospects, especially top hitters Javier Baez and Kris Bryant. He said he's "going slowly" with the players and doesn't want to "get in their face" too soon.
But the clubhouse reaction has been positive so far.
Bryant, who grew up a Red Sox fan, said it was "surreal" being in the same clubhouse with Ramirez.
"He's probably been through quite a few runs in his career where he's been 0-for-20 or 10-for-20," he said. "So it's good to learn from a guy like that, someone of his caliber who's had a Hall of Fame career. It's a good resource for all of us, and we're all picking his brain."
Baez, who started slowly at Triple A, is supposed to be Job No. 1 for Ramirez, though Epstein insisted, "It's not just for Javy."
Ramirez and Baez seem to have hit it off.
"Before Manny got here I thought it was going to be hard to talk to him," Baez said. "His name -- he's Manny Ramirez. I thought he was going to be cocky and stuff, but he's just another player."
Some fans see Ramirez as the poster child for the Steroids Era. Yet many of his former teammates see him in a much different light.
"I just see a big kid," former Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez said. "I see him the same way now -- a big kid with a couple of gray hairs. Manny is fun, gracious. He's always been that kind of person, a little shy within himself, but just fun to be around, always laughing, joking, always coming up with something different. Manny is very spontaneous."
Yet some wonder what Epstein was thinking when he asked Ramirez to mentor prospects. No one was knocking down the door to hire him.
"The thinking was he's gone through a lot in his life but he's made a real fundamental change," Epstein said. "And he's a new guy now. I tend to believe in second chances and redemption. He's convincing. You talk to a lot of people who were around him, and they're really convinced he's a new guy. He's been incredible so far."
Ramirez pointed out that "everyone makes mistakes," and that sometimes you have to "fall hard" before you can get back up.
But he also downplayed his past mistakes, claiming, "I don't regret anything I did," suggesting it led him to the righteous path he's now on.
So what lesson does that teach the kids?
That Manny being Manny means never having to say you're sorry.
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