Devotion to their Manny comes out of left field
Maaannnyyy, Maaannnyyy,” came the chorus, ringing through the left-field bleachers. “Maaannnyyy! Maaannnyyy!”
Manny Ramirez, No. 99 in his baggy Dodgers uniform, stood at the plate.
A pitch came.
The ball lofted from his bat and traced a smooth arc in the sky, heading directly for the patch of seats where I happened to be sitting with a group of the Dodgers’ most rambunctious fans. When it landed just feet from us -- Ramirez’s first Dodgers homer -- the bleachers shook with euphoria.
“Maaannnyyy! Maaannnyyy! Maaannnyyy!”
Helping lead the chorus was Gabriel Ruiz, a 25-year-old from South L.A. who is also a left-field, cheap-seats lifer, on hand for every game he can possibly make.
In this column we first met Ruiz and his hodgepodge of fellow fans last year, as I searched for a silver lining during a lost season. I’d found that lining in the eclectic group of regulars who call the $8-a-seat left-field bleachers home. There was a high school kid from the Valley, a computer programmer from Oxnard, a teacher, a UCLA student, a pair of cops, an Orthodox Jewish man and an Iranian family of 10.
Throughout this disappointing season many from this group have kept coming, though Ruiz makes it a little less often this season because he’s now a first-year patrolman for the LAPD. Everyone in these stands (which the Dodgers insist on fancying up by calling it the “left-field pavilion”) root particularly hard for whichever Dodger happens to be patrolling left field.
This being the case, the mega-deal that went down Thursday was a mind-blowing reward for patience and loyalty. For the rest of this season, left field will be patrolled by the loopy, magnificent Ramirez, possessor of as sweet a swing as any of us has ever seen.
Sitting on splintered seats, Ruiz and his fellow Dodgers loyalist Renato Casas told me Saturday night they feel like they’ve died and gone to heaven.
“Surprised isn’t the right word, really,” said Casas, leaning in to speak to me just after the beginning of the game, which turned out to be a 4-2 Dodgers win. “More like, I just couldn’t believe it. I thought I was dreaming.”
“I mean, we’re talking Manny Ramirez,” Ruiz added, tugging his Dodgers cap. “Manny Ramirez? He’s the best hitter in baseball. It’s that simple. . . . Trust me, one man can make a difference.”
The first pitch was tossed. Ruiz and Casas told me that the way they see it, Ned Colletti’s latest move will help atone for previous gambles that have gone south. They say Ramirez will be the spark that will help ignite everyone -- even, yes, Andruw Jones. They believe Ramirez’s quirky unpredictability will help loosen a team that all season has choked on its own expectations.
The Diamondbacks went meekly in their half of the first inning.
Fans rose to cheer Ramirez as he trotted to the dugout.
I hated to be a killjoy but amid all of this positivity, all this belief, I spoke of my skepticism. It’s hard for me to imagine this team getting much better just because it now has a left fielder who trudged to Hollywood with a shaky glove, a .299 batting average and 20 home runs this year, even if he is a lock for the Hall of Fame. Ramirez, 36, isn’t exactly in his prime, I reminded.
No way, you gotta keep the faith, Ruiz told me. I noticed that he was also the only person in the stands wearing an Andruw Jones jersey.
“One man can make a difference,” said Ruiz, who often sits in the stands with a blue Mohawk skullcap perched on his head. “You gotta believe.”
It’s hard to rid a skeptic of his beliefs. So I continued, noting that perhaps Ramirez, playing for a fat contract next season, will shake off the disinterest and tendency to pout he showed in Boston over the last few weeks and end up having a great end-of-season run. But will a winning Dodgers season and the playoffs be the end result?
Look, I said, this is the ultimate .500 team, a group of underachievers whose slogan should be “wait till next year.”
They eyed me like I was either nuts, or simply a Giants fan about to get mauled.
This is the year, they vowed. This is the year.
We laughed together. We turned to the green field and the large crowd. Ramirez was up. He walked to the plate, swung, and the ball he struck popped off his bat as if shot from a bazooka, landing just a few rows from us.
When the chorus of cheers and the high-fives died down, Ruiz spoke up.
“You see?” he said. “One man can make a difference!”
Caught up in a great moment, I found myself agreeing. Sometimes it’s good to be among the true fans, and to believe like they do.
Kurt Streeter can be reached at email@example.com. To read previous columns by Streeter, go to latimes.com/streeter.