In Manny’s defense, I hadn’t really thought this whole thing through. I mean, who heads out to Spring Training … chats up Tommy Lasorda in the parking lot … basks in the glory of the Dodgers’ new spring training facility (even though she’s a Giants fan) … scarfs down a few hot dogs with her Red Sox-loving pal … then shoots over to the clubhouse to sit down with Manny Ramirez and ask him a couple of quick questions? Well, I do. And I did. Last week.
I arranged the meeting through the Dodgers PR department, who had just started allowing bloggers access to the clubhouse. They suggested that I stop by either early in the morning, or right when Manny left the game — if he even played that day. He has been struggling with a pulled hamstring all spring. But he did play, and I watched him intensely for the six innings he was in the game, as his Dodgers hosted the Royals in their new digs — Cambelback Ranch in Glendale, AZ.
Manny got three hits (all down the middle) and made a few great plays in left field — including charging the ball and making a ridiculously strong throw to the cutoff man to hold the runner at third. No signs of hamstring issues there. But he did routinely toss his glove up in the air several times during plays when the ball wasn’t headed in his direction — like my niece who gets bored while playing soccer and stops to pick flowers. So Manny was still Manny. The moment he left the game, I bolted down to the clubhouse.
I was wearing a white flouncy skirt, a polo shirt and flip-flops. I was in Arizona! I was at Spring Training! My legs hadn’t seen sun in six long months! (Note to self and the rest of the world: This is not a good outfit to wear in the clubhouse. It screams, “I am a chick. I am alienating your world. I do not belong here.”) There were other reporters there from the LA Times, the Associated Press, the LA Daily News — and a gaggle of Japanese reporters there to interview pitcher Hiroki Kuroda. The Dodgers starting pitcher came out of the shower in a towel with his arm iced and wrapped. He bowed politely to the reporters — who bowed back, then asked him a million questions and snapped a million more photos. That’s not quite how it went down with Manny.
When I entered the clubhouse, he was surrounded by sportswriters who were there to talk about today’s game. Today’s exhibition game. Today’s game that didn’t count. I had loads of other questions for Manny. Good stuff. Juicy stuff. In fact, I mentioned that I was interviewing him on Facebook and Twitter, and solicited questions from GoGameFace.com readers. I thought some would make him laugh. Once the sports writers finished up, I approached Manny. He shook my hand and said, “How you doin’ honey?”
I said, “Great! I’m writing a story for the Huffington Post, and don’t worry, I have some fun questions for you.”
“Sweetheart, do you mind if I take a shower first?” he said.
“Sure thing, Manny! In fact, I’d prefer it…” I said, with a smile.
While I waited for him to shower, a few other players filtered in and out. Some in their towels, some in their unis, all looking at me with disdain. One player kind of positioned himself behind a pillar while he got dressed — so I couldn’t see him. There was another woman in the locker room, but she looked like a sportswriter. She wasn’t wearing cruise wear. She fit the part; I did not. I just stared at the TV and focused on the game.
Even though I cover the topic of “ladies in the locker room” in GameFace, I thought having women in the clubhouse was commonplace now. Maybe not. I am Facebook friends with Susan Fornoff, the former Bay Area sports writer who was told by a player: “Baseball is a fraternity, a fraternity of men. And you will never understand that or be a part of that because you are a woman.” This was shortly after she had received a pretty pink box containing a rat with a tag that said, “My name is Sue.” It was sent by Dave Kingman of the Oakland A’s — who was fined ,500.
I guess I had thought those days were over. Maybe not. But I do take some level of responsibility, because I didn’t really do my homework. I didn’t try to fit in. I should have started off with a few serious questions to prove myself, then eased into the fun stuff. Instead, I tried to just be me. And as a result, Manny was just Manny.
When he came out of the shower in his towel, a bunch of male reporters swarmed him — even though they knew that it was my turn. While waiting for Manny not to be nude anymore, the Dodgers PR guy said to me, “He might be done for the day. Let’s see how it goes.” This was the first indication that this might not end well.
Finally, when Manny finished putting on his Seven Jeans and t-shirt, I strolled over. Perched in a cubbyhole on the top of his locker, he had one of those kind of cheesy, neon-colored oil paintings that one might find in Tijuana. The painting was of Manny, in uniform and braids, pointing a finger like he was a sales guy (like Herb Tarlick from WKRP). I thought to myself, “It’s game time.” I mentally did a little sales-guy finger-pointing, myself.
EB: Hey Manny, so I have some fun questions for you.
MR: (Angry) Like what? Are you going to ask me about Boston?
EB: (Internal Monologue) Sheesh, What happened in that shower? Was there no hot water? Did one of your braids come out, cranky pants?
EB: No, well, I was going to ask you about your new book, “Becoming Manny.”
MR: (Angrier) I don’t even know what that book says!
LA Times Reporter: Did you even read it?
MR: Hell no! I don’t want to talk about this. I want to talk about the game!
EB: (Shuffles through her notes. Knows that most of her questions are about baggy pants, whether he hangs out with Alyssa Milano and if he's noticed that gas prices are dropping. Not good. She panics.) So Manny, how’s the hammy? (Trying to get things back on track.)
MR: (Slightly less angry) Fine.
EB: (Phew) OK, so how do you define “Manny being Manny”?
MR: (Angriest) I don’t want to talk about this stupid stuff. (Starts to walk away. Puts his hand on Erica’s shoulder.) Sorry, honey …
Not only did I not get any good answers from him, but I also ruined the moment for the other female reporter. She tried to catch him on the way out and ask him about the game, and he blew her off. The Dodgers PR guy said that normally, interviews like mine were set up through his publicist. He told her that she should have asked her questions before I got to him. Good times at Camelback Ranch.
So is this another case of Manny being Manny? Maybe a little. But I get it. He’s an incredible athlete — sure, one with a questionable work ethic — but all he wanted to do was talk about the game. And I didn’t. I wanted to talk about his baggy pants. And I still do, actually.
While in Arizona, I also met former Giant Vida Blue, former A’s pitcher and renowned handlebar-mustache-wearer Rollie Fingers, and the aforementioned Tommy Lasorda — who were all wonderful … charming … delightful, even. How could you not be delightful and giddy and light-hearted during Spring Training, with Opening Day just around the corner? The sun is shining. The grass has never been greener. The players are psyched about the season. The fans aren’t heckling anyone just yet. There is the distinct smell of hot dogs — and hope — in the air. Life is good … Even if Manny didn’t answer my stupid questions.
But maybe in 20 years, on warm sunny day in Arizona, Manny Ramirez will sit down with me and we’ll actually talk. Maybe when the nitty-gritty details of the game have faded a bit, and it is this other “fun” stuff that he’ll want to talk about. Like Boston. And his book. And his pants. And his braids. Maybe he’ll actually sit down with me and answer the following questions from me and my GoGameFace.com fans:
EB: Many others have said it, but how exactly do you mean by Manny being Manny?
EB: Manny, do you like speaking about yourself in the third person?
EB: What is your greatest baseball moment? Was it the day you became a US Citizen? The Red Sox Championship in 2004? The day you became a Dodger? The day you signed Scott Boras as your agent?
EB: Is it true you have two sons named Manny?
EB: Are you a fan of George Foreman?
EB: Who does your hair?
EB: Did you pee inside the Green Monster?
EB: Why are your pants so baggy?
EB: Aren’t they hot?
EB: Do they slow you down, say when you are running out ground balls?
EB: After the Red Sox Championship, you didn’t meet with George Bush. Would you meet with Obama?
EB: Do more people recognize you in Boston or LA?
EB: Do you hang out with celebrities?
EB: Are you working on a screenplay, like everyone in LA?
EB: Do you really want to direct?
EB: Have you hung out with Alyssa Milano?
EB: Last fall, you said: "Gas is up, and so am I.” Did you notice that gas prices have gone down?
EB: What have you done during the recession to cut back? What advice do you have for your fans who might be struggling financially?
EB: Can I touch your braids?