The chants at Petco Park started the moment Manny Ramirez stepped into the on-deck circle.
Petco Park, where only three years ago suspected drug cheat Barry Bonds had a syringe thrown in his direction.
Yet now there were grown men in the box seats along the first-base line wearing fake dreadlocks. They held up signs and pointed their cameras at the player with the loose-fitting uniform. Their hero was back, having served a 50-game suspension for violating baseball’s drug policy, caught with a prescription for a banned substance called HCG.
When his name was announced Friday over the public address system, the capacity crowd erupted. A crescendo of boos was soon drowned out by the chants of fans in Dodger-blue shirts, chanting until nothing else mattered as baseball’s latest star to be linked to performance-enhancing drugs came to the plate.
It was a release of sorts on a day that began with Ramirez, wearing Dodger-blue tinted sunglasses, meeting with reporters.
Asked Friday to detail his steroid use, Ramirez replied, “First I want to say that God is good and good is God. I don’t want to get into my medical records right now.”
Ramirez was 0 for 3 with a walk before the leaving the game in the sixth inning as the Dodgers beat the Padres, 6-3.
Along the way, he received numerous standing ovations from fans who made the two-hour trek from Los Angeles and appeared to fill half of the stadium -- a stadium that has rarely seen sellouts of late.
“Everywhere I go, man, people are there for me,” Ramirez said. “They give me their support. It hasn’t been that bad.”
After the game, the praise continued.
“I was kind of nervous,” he said. “I hadn’t played in two months. I knew it was going to be crazy, but thanks to fans of L.A., they made it so easy for me to go and play.”
That Ramirez hasn’t explained the events that led to his exile, which began May 7, mattered little.
At the news conference, he apologized to his fans and to his teammates, explaining that he felt he had to do so for “not being there for them. For not playing the game. Because I’m a huge part of the Dodgers, you know, and I’m proud to wear that uniform.
“And when I say I’m sorry, I let those fans down that go out there to see me.”
Asked if he has been contacted by Drug Enforcement Agency investigators looking into the doctor who wrote the prescription for HCG, he said, “Like I said, I don’t want to get into my records. I want to talk about the game.”
Later, he was asked if he knew the doctor in question, Pedro Publio Bosch, or his son, Anthony Bosch, who is believed to have led Ramirez to the South Florida clinic.
“I don’t want to talk about my criminal records,” he said.
He then laughed.
Ramirez’s path to this night of cheers mixed with jeers can be traced to the spring, when he took a drug test, one that was flagged for having abnormally high levels of artificial testosterone.
In accordance with Major League Baseball’s policy, he turned over his medical records to the players’ union, which, in turn, handed them over to baseball officials. Included in the records was a prescription for human chorionic gonadotropin, a female fertility drug often used by steroid users to restore the production of natural testosterone.
HCG, however, wasn’t found in Ramirez’s system, according to sources with knowledge of the test results, but baseball suspended Ramirez for “just cause” based on “non-analytical evidence.”
The absence of the drug in Ramirez’s system, coupled with the high levels of artificial testosterone, was an indication that he had used steroids, anti-doping experts told The Times.
Ramirez stayed silent on the subject during the news conference, where he sat alongside his agent, Scott Boras, as Manager Joe Torre stood nearby. The Dodgers left fielder said that because he apologized he didn’t have to explain himself any further.
He also acknowledged that the controversy embarrassed him “a lot.” But, he added, “we’re humans. We learn from our mistakes. There was only one man that was perfect, and they killed him, so that’s how I look at life.”
Ramirez was unusually boastful, making remarks about his gifts that made him a 12-time All-Star.
For example, speaking of the way fans in Los Angeles have backed him, he said, “I’m not surprised, because I’m one of the best players who ever put the uniform” on.
The player who has often used self-deprecating humor in his interactions with reporters was suddenly sharing what he described as an absolute belief that he would be the same player he was before his ban.
“Now, I got a challenge,” he said. “I’ve got to go out there and show people I could still do it. I know could do it. So that’s good. That’s going to give me more fire to play the game.”
Because he knows there are people who want him to fail?
“I’m not going to fail,” he said.
He then said he had nothing to prove.
Leaning into the microphone one last time, he said, “It’s showtime tonight!”
With that, he departed from the dais, and Torre took his place.
“I think he’s very uncomfortable with this,” Torre said. “I heard some of the answers; I think he’s just uncomfortable.”
This wasn’t an unfamiliar place for Torre. When he managed the New York Yankees, he had an All-Star player in Jason Giambi who was linked to steroid use. Torre said he didn’t think Ramirez would share Giambi’s fate.
“The only thing I know is that Manny is a legitimately good hitter,” he said. “Jason was more of a power-type guy.”
But the road back to normality included a stop in the absurd.
Richard Andersen, general manager of Petco Park, said the Padres increased their security presence for the three-game series and that security guards and police officers would be stationed to discourage fans from throwing anything onto the field.
Dodgers chief of security Ray Maytorena was among the team’s officials at the park. He said he would be with Ramirez for at least six games.
Television production trucks lined the outside of the park. About 150 reporters covered the game.
The players who share a clubhouse with Ramirez said they were used to it.
“It’s deja vu, him coming back,” Andre Ethier said.
The weird will get weirder. The Dodgers’ next stop will be in New York, where they will face the Mets in a three-game series that starts Tuesday.
Dodgers third base coach Larry Bowa said Ramirez was fortunate to have this all take place at Petco Park.
“I’d rather be in San Diego than New York,” Bowa said.