Manuel Aristides Ramirez Returns Tonight

Manny Ramirez

Broadway plays often open in Hartford, Connecticut, to work out the kinks before their New York debut. Manny Ramirez will make his debut and the resulting show to San Diego before moving to the Big Apple, as well as on to the rest of the National League.

The media, some 150 of them, will be as thick as the hairs on Dolly Parton's wig tonight when Ramirez will play in his first game with the Dodgers since being suspended 50 games for violating Major League Baseball's drug policy.

The anticipated circus will see Manny politely declining to talk about he drug charges and attempt to turn the spotlight on the game. He will be booed by non-Dodger fans and cheered by those who know that his big bat will eventually be he difference in a spot in the playoff or an early vacation in Hawaii.

The gathering of the vultures hoping to get him to make an ill-advised comment started at a workout Thursday at at Petco Park and, by rule, Manny wasn't even on hand.

Adding to the bizarre scene, thousands of bees swarmed around Ramirez spot in left field.

The uninvited visitors caused a 52-minute delay in the Padres' 7-2 loss to the Houston Astros.

Jason Schmidt was on hand when Barry Bonds was badly treated by fans when they played together for the San Francisco Giants. But Schmidt said he was fairly certain Ramirez wouldn't get such rough treatment.

"It's not quite the same," Schmidt said when comparing their situations. "In fact, People are probably tired of hearing about the whole thing."

The Dodgers apparently feel the same way ad are prepared to reopen the Mannywood section in left field named in his honor when the club returns home from the current road trip and after the All-Star Game.

Coach Mark Sweeney, who also played with Bonds in San Francisco, told the Los Angeles Times that Ramirez also would be less of a distraction to the Dodgers than Bonds was to the Giants because of Ramirez's personality.

"As a team it's a lot easier to handle the situation when the conversation is positive. Up there [San Francisco], you had a lot of different opinions with Barry," Sweeney said.

No matter what the fans will do or won't do, the Dodgers' clubhouse was a happy place.

Rafael Furcal said with a grin, "Everybody is happy to get Manny back. Everybody's been waiting for him."

Ramirez will be returning to a Dodgers team that holds a 7 1/2 game lead over over second-place San Francisco primarily on the strength of their pitching staff.

The Dodgers have scored only eight runs in their last five games and hit 24 home runs in their first 29 games (.83 per game) but went long only 35 times in their 50 games (.70 per game) without Ramirez.

"Manny will perhaps relieve some of the stress we've shown trying to score a run," Manager Joe Torre said.

However, both Torre and General Manager Ned Colletti cautioned that Ramirez might not pick up his usual hitting pace immediately. He certainly didn't terrorize the minor league pitcher he face during his five minor league rehab contests.

Ramirez said he has lost 11 pounds in a two-day period last month when he came down with flu-like symptoms, and his main priorities are to regain his timing and lower-body strength. "I have to get my legs back," he said. "I have to get used to the speed of the game. But my strength is still there."

Last week, when writers reminded him of how the fans in Los Angeles were in love with him, he said, "They still are. They still are."

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