Manny Says, "I'm B-a-a-a-a-c-k!"

Manny Ramirez, the light-hearted outfielder with a magic bat, took the podium at his first press conference since re-signing, paused for a moment, spread his arms and broke up the eclectic mix of print, radio and television media gathered on the upper deck behind the left field wall in Camelback Ranch with the statement, "I'm Back!"

Ramirez, a breath of fresh air in the sometimes too stuffy world of Major League Baseball, had signed his huge ($25 to $45 million) contract, passed the obligatory physical and had arrived at the Dodgers offices in a phalanx of SUVs some 30 minutes before the announced time time of the press conference flanked by some of the biggest names in baseball.

Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, general manager Ned Colletti, manager Joe Torre and Manny's agent Steve Boras led a contingent of three times that many officials and were greeted by a representative from nearly every media venue west of the Mississippi and many east of there.

More television and still shots were taken during the ceremonies than during the entire coverage of World War II.

McCourt spoke first, expressing his pleasure that Manny had signed, pointing out that his off-field value was nearly equal to his offensive talents.

He said Manny had bonded with the Dodgers players and fans during his short stay in Los Angeles and that everyone had been interested in his re-signing.

McCourt went on to say that in addition to his remarkable work ethic and his ability to lighten the tension in the clubhouse, the outfielder had opted to donate $1 million to build little league parks in the Los Angeles area and perhaps in the Dominican Republic.

McCourt noted that as long as he was steward of the Dodgers there would be a "Ramirez Provision" in player's contracts so they could give something back to the Los Angeles area. The signees themselves could designate the amount donated.

General manager Ned Colletti pointed out how long the negotiations with Boras had taken, "It started 141 days ago and it seems as if Steve Boras (Manny's agent) and spent Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Eve and Groundhog Day together -- especially Groundhog Day -- but we got the job done."

Manager Joe Torre took the podium and, although he didn't say it, was visibly relieved that his lineup had received such a remarkable upgrade. He also said that any lineup in which Casey Blake was hitting eighth, didn't have many soft spots.

But it was Manny's day and he proved he might have a solid career as a standup comic when his playing days are over -- when he's 50 or 51 in all probability.

He broke up the gathering with his coy, I'm b-a-a-a-c-k opening and kept it up for about 20 minutes, also answering questions in both English and Spanish. One question, in Spanish, asked if he would like to stay in Los Angeles for the rest of his career and he admitted that he would like that.

"I want to thank the McCourt Family for making this good investment," he said, nodding toward a beaming Frank McCourt. He thanked his agent, Steve Boras, for helping him land the $45 million contract that could, at his option, continue through 2010. He also thanked Joe Torre and said, "We (the Dodgers) have some unfinished business."

"I'm in a happy place now," he went on. "I've made my money and I've been looking for this place for eight years. I don't know how it is going to shake out, but I'm going to do my thing (as if there was any doubt). I'm going to give it all I've got."

Asked how long it would take to get into playing form, he drew another big laugh when he said, "I have to get my Gold Glove and my cannon of an arm ready for the season," alluding to his outfielding shortcomings.

McCourt marveled at how Ramirez's personality endeared himself with the Dodgers fans.

"The relationship with Manny with our fans has really been a phenomenon It's what you're always looking for in sports, to create that pure happiness for fans and the community and Manny does that."

Manny took a brief batting practice on a back field and nearly caused a riot among the crowds that followed him to watch. They had to move the process to a field further back in the complex to hold back the masses.

Later, he appeared on a balcony well above and behind the Camelback stadium outfield wall and the nearly 6,000 in attendance noticed him immediately, giving him a loud and rousing welcome. All of which seemed to please him no end.

And in the team store in deep center field, the officially licensed Manny Ramirez Dodgers jersey, with No. 99, not only went on sale for a cool $275, they flew off the racks at an astounding rate.

Where Manny is concerned, there's no downturn in the economy.

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