Young Cubs look up to new hitting instructor Manny Ramirez
MESA, Arizona (AP) Growing up in Cuba, Jorge Soler had limited access to major league games on television. Only the best teams and the most famous players made the news on the communist island.
Manny Ramirez was one of them.
''He's my favorite player,'' the 23-year-old Chicago Cubs outfielder said on Sunday. ''In Cuba, you always hear about the best players, no one else, and you always heard about him.''
Soler and other Cubs youngsters who watched Ramirez on TV during his heyday with the Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox can now learn firsthand from the Dominican slugger. The Cubs hired him as a hitting consultant this season after he worked last year as a player-coach for their Triple-A Iowa team.
In just one week since spring training began, Ramirez has gained the respect of the team, especially the Latin American players on the roster. Whether he is joking with Soler in the clubhouse or giving tips to Puerto Rican infielder Javier Baez during a batting practice session, when Manny speaks, everyone listens.
''It's incredible to have him giving you advice, telling you `do it this way, do it that way,''' Soler said.
Besides, his numbers in almost two decades in the majors speak for themselves. Ramirez finished his big league career with 555 home runs, 1,831 RBIs and a .312 average.
''Before knowing him, I always had his videos on my iPad. His hits, his home runs, his extra-base hits,'' recalled 24-year-old shortstop and fellow Dominican Starlin Castro, a five-year veteran and one of the longest-tenured Cubs on the roster. ''I would study his swing any time I was in a slump.''
Ramirez last appeared in the majors during the opening week of the 2011 season, before he was suspended by MLB for a second time in two years for performance-enhancing drugs. The 42-year-old remained active in the Dominican winter league and Taiwan, and he hit .409 with six homers and 28 RBIs in 147 at-bats last season with the Aguilas Cibaenas in his native country.
''He has taught me a lot about the approach at the plate,'' said Baez, who hit nine homers and struck out 95 times in 213 at-bats last season as a rookie. ''It's impressive, knowing that you used to watch him on television, and now you have him in person.''