Ramirez plays cricket on day off

GILBERT, Ariz. -- Decked out in a chinstrapped red helmet, padded gloves and pillowy shinguards, Manny Ramirez watched from the side as a bowler warmed up.

After the first ball kicked up dust and rocketed past him, the Los Angeles Dodgers slugger turned and wondered about his safety. But it wasn't long before one of the most feared hitters in baseball felt secure enough to step in and take a few swings with a cricket bat.

"Let me see a fast one," Ramirez shouted to the bowler, Souvir Bhuta, who fired a hard one-hopper.

"Very good," Ramirez said. "I'm going to talk to Frank [McCourt, the Dodgers' owner]. Maybe we could sign you. We need some pitching."

The Dodgers had Wednesday off, so Circus Manny moved to this suburb southeast of Phoenix, where Ramirez took batting lessons from Australian pro Shaun Marsh to promote DIRECTV's international cricket broadcasts.

Ramirez has been sidelined with a tight hamstring, and he didn't run or play in the field. He said he had been treated at the team's facility before heading over for the demonstration and that he hopes to play in an exhibition game next week.

"I'm feeing better every day," Ramirez said. "We've got three weeks to Opening Day. That's what we're shooting for."

Ramirez chuckled when asked if Dodgers manager Joe Torre had authorized his outing.

"Oh yeah. I think I'm going to retire and maybe sign with cricket," said Ramirez, who recently agreed to a $45 million, two-year contract with the Dodgers.

The made-for-the-media event took place on a sunsplashed field often used by the Arizona Cricket Club, one of an estimated 750 cricket teams in this country. The event paired two men who make their living with a bat -- although the bat wielded by Ramirez on Wednesday had an elongated handle and was flat, like a paddle.

Marsh is a left-handed opening bat who plays for his country and for Kings XI Punjab in the Indian Premier League. Like Ramirez, Marsh is coming back from a hamstring injury that he said had sidelined him for about six weeks.

Marsh said he had been looking forward to meeting Ramirez.

"I've heard a little bit about him, but I really don't follow baseball too much," Marsh said. "I read up about him when I was coming over here. He's certainly an icon in American sport."

Marsh gave Ramirez a few quick pointers on the rules.

"It's pretty simple, mate," Marsh said. "You just make sure you're nice and relaxed. You keep your eyes on the ball, just like you do in baseball."

With Marsh standing nearby, Ramirez swung and missed at his first pitch before lining the second one past the bowler's ear as yellow-jerseyed members of the Arizona Cricket Club chased down the ball.

On the third delivery, Ramirez let the ball hit the wicket, which would have been an out in an actual game.

"That's an out?" Ramirez said. "Give me one more chance."

A few minutes later, Bhuta fired a ball that bounded behind Ramirez, who danced out of the way.

"Am I allowed to charge the mound?" Ramirez said.

It was a funny line, but cricket uses a shiny 5½-ounce ball that feels every bit as hard as a horsehide. Marsh said later he wasn't worried that the Dodgers' expensive property might take a ball in the noggin.

"They weren't bowling too quick," Marsh said.

When the brief session was over, Ramirez expressed admiration for Marsh and the skills of cricketers, although he cringed when told that some at-bats can span nine hours.

"That's too long," Ramirez said.

Asked to recall his longest at-bat, Ramirez said, "Maybe 10 pitches."

Ramirez's escapades in the outfield are legendary, but at least he has a large leather glove to protect himself. In cricket, only the wicketkeeper wears gloves in the field.

"It's unbelievable," Ramirez said. "I don't know how they do it. The ball comes like 110 [mph] and they catch it with no glove."

Sometimes they catch it in the ribs. That's where Ramirez's longest drive hit Anil Cheruvu, one of the fielders from the Arizona Cricket Club.

Cheruvu had an alibi used by many a baseball outfielder: he lost it in the sun.

"I got blinded," he said. "He got me right in the ribs. I guess I'll have to keep the red mark for a while."