You can tell Hanley Ramirez is the kind of player who feeds on a crowd's energy, positive or negative. He hushed a stadium full of San Francisco Giants fans shortly after the Dodgers acquired him with a game-winning home run and he fanned Dodgers' fans frenzy with a game-winning single on the last homestand.
Both times, he capped it with his trademark gesture, fingers forming circles around his eyes, as if to say, "Look at me."
Now, he'll get an entirely different emotional experience. It didn't take long for Ramirez to return to the scene of his meteoric ascent to baseball stardom and his slow, frustrating return to earth. Two weeks after the trade that sent Ramirez to the Dodgers out of Miami, he's back at Marlins Park, where the Dodgers open a three-game series starting tonight.
Before he packed hastily after Wednesday night's game to catch a redeye flight back to Miami, where his wife and children were waiting for him, Ramirez talked about the atmosphere at Dodger Stadium. Whether he intended it or not, it might come across as a jab at Marlins fans, who have turned out in disappointing numbers to see their team play in its brand new stadium.
"That's the first time I've had that kind of crowd for the team that I'm playing for," Ramirez said. "It's unbelievable, that energy, every day, every inning, every out, every at-bat. It's unbelievable. You feel like you always want to go out there and do the best you can."
The Marlins are averaging 28,405 fans and the crowds have thinned out since the team fell out of contention and upper management started trading off name-brand players, including Ramirez. On an average night, the Marlins state-of-the-art stadium has been only 75 percent full. The Dodgers are averaging 41,368 fans, sixth in the majors.
There might be a little more action in Miami tonight, as Marlins fans let Ramirez know how they feel about him. He was a Rookie of the Year in 2006 and had one of the best seasons in franchise history in 2009, when he batted .342 with 24 home runs and 27 stolen bases, but the remainder of his time in Florida was a disappointment. Ramirez clashed with two managers, was pulled from games at times for failing to hustle and had a run-in with Marlins icon Jeff Connine, now in the team's front office.
Of course, Ramirez's first order of business is to help the Dodgers reach the playoffs. Anything else that happens in Miami over the next three days is just a sideshow.
"I want to see this team in first place. That's why I'm here to help them win ballgames and, at the end of the day, it's about championships," Ramirez said.
The worry for the Dodgers, who go into the series trailing the Giants by one game, is that Ramirez, who bats either fourth or fifth, won't be as focused this weekend in what could be a pivotal series. Manager Don Mattingly said it could be something he has to monitor but was confident he'd come through.
"He'll be OK," Mattingly said. "He's not the first guy that's had to go through it."