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Suspension shocks 'Mannywood'

The disappointment on the faces of Dodgers manager Joe Torre and general manager Ned Colletti as they faced a throng of media members before Thursday's game may have only been matched by those of Tony and Sandy Hudkins.

There weren't hundreds of cameras or reporters surrounding Tony, 62, and Sandy, 67, a retired couple from North Hills, Calif. No one cared how they were holding up or how they found out about the news that Manny Ramirez had been suspended 50 games after testing positive for a banned performance-enhancing substance. They might not be as financially invested in Ramirez as Dodgers owners Frank and Jamie McCourt, but they were as financially invested as a retired couple could be.

Before the season, they picked out a pair of field-level tickets, a couple rows away from left field where Ramirez would be roaming around, his dreadlocks flapping this way and that. It was a section that was being renamed "Mannywood," where fans would be able to buy a pair of tickets that would also come with two "Mannywood" T-Shirts. It seemed like the perfect way to spend their retirement days. It was until Thursday morning.

"We were totally depressed," said Tony, sitting in his seat with a Dodger Dog in hand before the game. "I didn't even want to come here. I was sorry I bought the tickets. We came here to see him and we feel disgusted, deprived and cheated. This is why we got these tickets, to see him."

While Tony and Sandy still wore the Ramirez jerseys they had purchased before the season to the game, they had seriously contemplated asking for a refund for the games in which Ramirez would miss. It was a fleeting thought, however, as they decided to drive to Dodger Stadium and support the team. They were still Dodger fans, after all.

"We feel bad, but we're here to support the team and I know Manny probably feels bad too," said Sandy. "I was devastated when I heard the news, but we're going to support him when he comes back."

It was a common sentiment among most fans, who felt somewhat cheated that they wouldn't be able to see Ramirez. However, the same fans will probably forgive him as soon as he returns in July. In a city seemingly built on suspending reality in the name of entertainment, forgiving Ramirez seemed as logical as forgiving a Hollywood starlet that was coming out of rehab.

"I'm upset, but I'll accept him with open arms when he comes back," said Tony. "I think this whole drug thing has gotten completely out of hand. It's not just him. I'm upset, but I'm sure he didn't want to lose over $7 million. I think everyone will accept him and embrace him when he comes back. Manny is still Manny, and we still love him."

A couple rows away from Tony and Sandy sat Manny Martinez, a 33-year-old engineer from Woodlake who came to the game with his 10-year-old son, Manny Jr., who had been looking forward to coming to the game for weeks. While father and son came to the game in their blue "Mannywood" shirts, Manny Jr. left behind the Manny dreadlocks wig he had bought for the game in his room.

"I just didn't want to wear them," said Manny Jr., as he punched his glove and looked at an empty left field. "I didn't want to believe that he could do something like that, but he did. I was really excited to see him play tonight."

The Manny wig may be somewhat of a collector's item until Ramirez comes back. None of the concession stands within the stadium sold any Ramirez items on Thursday and only the two official stores sold Ramirez jerseys. The wigs and the Mannywood shirts had mysteriously "sold out" since Ramirez's suspension.

Within minutes of Ramirez's suspension, the "Mannywood" ticket promotion was removed from the Dodgers' Web site and the team announced that it would be discontinued until further notice and the 3,100 promotional tickets that were sold for games while Ramirez is on suspension would be refunded -- if fans chose to ask for a refund. Those that will still go to the games will receive a Dodgers T-shirt instead unless they specifically ask for a Mannywood T-shirt.

Ramirez was all over the city after he had re-signed in March, his likeness plastered on billboards, buildings and buses. Never before had the Dodgers been so player-centric in their marketing and advertising; then again they hadn't had a player like Ramirez in decades. He captured the hearts of Los Angeles as soon as he arrived. His shaggy wig and replica jersey filled the stadium as the Dodgers enjoyed a 31-7 home record since he arrived last August, including a record 13-game home winning streak to start this season.

"To be honest, I had been contemplating using him for our fan behavior codes," said Dodger executive vice president and chief operating officer Dennis Mannion, who said the team is already transitioning from the "Mannywood" marketing campaign to a more team-centric "This is my town" campaign. "I thought his smile and the way he embraces the families is so special. It shocked me."

Shock, even in today's steroid-plagued league, was the overriding feeling in "Mannywood" or whatever the Dodgers are calling the left-field seats that were named after him once the Dodgers' game against the Nationals started and Juan Pierre ran out to left field instead of Ramirez.

"When I first heard the news on the radio this morning, I had a large put in my stomach like I had lost a good friend," said Louis Craner, a 44-year-old fan, who still wore his Ramirez jersey. "When he came here it was like watching the Dodgers of the 70s and 80s when they were winning championships. I'm just so disappointed. Everyone here in this section came here to see him and he let us down. We'll support him when he comes back, but we're still in shock right now."

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