In Manny's defense, I hadn't really thought this whole thing through. I mean, who heads to Arizona for Spring Training ... basks in the glory of the Dodgers' new facility (even though she's a Giants fan) ... chats up Tommy Lasorda ... scarfs down a few hot dogs ... then shoots over to the clubhouse to ask Manny Ramirez a couple questions? Well, I do. And I did. Last week.
I arranged the meeting through the Dodgers PR department, who had just started allowing bloggers in the clubhouse. They suggested I stop by early in the morning, or right when Manny left the game -- if he even played that day. He had been struggling with a pulled hamstring all spring. But he did play, for six innings, as his Dodgers hosted the Royals in their new digs -- Camelback Ranch in Glendale.
Manny got three hits (all down the middle) and made a few great plays in left field -- including charging the ball and making a ridiculously strong throw to the cutoff man to hold the runner at third. No signs of hamstring issues there. But he did routinely toss his glove up in the air several times during plays when the ball wasn't headed in his direction -- like my niece who gets bored while playing soccer and stops to pick flowers. So Manny was still Manny. The moment he left the game, I bolted down to the clubhouse.
I was wearing a white flouncy skirt, a polo shirt and flip-flops. I was in Arizona! I was at Spring Training! My legs hadn't seen sun in six months! (Note to self and the rest of the world: This is not a good outfit to wear in the clubhouse. It screams, "I am a chick. I am alienating your world. I do not belong here.") There were other reporters there from the LA Times, the Associated Press, the LA Daily News -- and a gaggle of Japanese journalists there to interview pitcher Hiroki Kuroda. The Dodgers starting pitcher came out of the shower in a towel with his arm iced and wrapped. He bowed politely to the reporters -- who bowed back, then asked him a million questions. That's not quite how it went down with Manny.
When I entered the clubhouse, he was surrounded by sportswriters who were there to talk about today's game. I had loads of other questions for Manny. Good stuff. Juicy stuff. In fact, I solicited questions from GoGameFace.com readers on Facebook and Twitter. I thought some would make him laugh. Once the sports writers finished up, I approached Manny. He shook my hand and said, "How you doin' honey?"
I said, "Great! I'm writing a story for the Huffington Post, and don't worry, I have some fun questions for you."
"Do you mind if I take a shower first?" he said.
"Sure thing, Manny! In fact, I'd prefer it..." I said, with a smile.
While I waited, a few other players filtered in and out. Some in their towels, some in their unis, all looking at me with disdain. One player seemed to position himself behind a pillar while he got dressed -- out of my line of sight. There was another woman in the locker room, but she looked like a sportswriter. She wasn't wearing cruise wear. She fit the part; I did not. I just stared at the TV and focused on the game.
Even though I worked for the San Francisco Giants in the '90s and I cover the topic of "ladies in the locker room" in GameFace, I thought having women in the clubhouse was commonplace now. Maybe not. But I do take some level of responsibility, because I didn't really do my homework. I didn't try to fit in. I should have started off with serious questions to prove myself, then eased into the fun stuff. Instead, I tried to just be me. And as a result, Manny was just Manny.
When he came out of the shower in his towel, several male reporters swarmed him. While I waited for Manny to no longer be nude, the Dodgers PR guy said to me, "He might be done for the day. Let's see how it goes." This was my first indication that this might not end well.
Finally, when he finished putting on his Seven Jeans and t-shirt, I strolled over. It was game time. For me, anyway.
EB: Hey Manny, so I have some fun questions for you.
MR: (Angry) Like what? Are you going to ask me about Boston?
EB: No, well, I was going to ask you about your new book, "Becoming Manny."
MR: (Angrier) I don't even know what that book says!
LA Times Reporter: Did you even read it?
MR: Hell no! I don't want to talk about this. I want to talk about the game!
EB: (Shuffles through her notes. Knows that most of her questions are about baggy pants, whether he hangs out with Alyssa Milano and if he's noticed that gas prices have dropped. She panics.) So Manny, how's the hammy? (Trying to get things back on track.)
MR: (Slightly less angry) Fine.
EB: (Phew) OK, so how do you define "Manny being Manny?"
MR: (Angriest) I don't want to talk about this stupid stuff. (Starts to walk away. Puts his hand on my shoulder.) Sorry, honey ...
Game over. For both of us.
So is this another case of Manny being Manny? Maybe a little. But I get it. He's an incredible athlete -- sure, one with a questionable work ethic -- but all he wanted to do was talk about the game. And I didn't. I wanted to talk about his baggy pants. I still do, actually.
While in Arizona, I also met former Giant Vida Blue, former A's pitcher and renowned handlebar-mustache-wearer Rollie Fingers, and the aforementioned Tommy Lasorda -- who were all wonderful ... charming ... delightful, even. How could you not be delightful and giddy and light-hearted during Spring Training, with Opening Day just around the corner? The sun is shining. The grass has never been greener. The players are psyched about the season. The fans aren't heckling anyone just yet. There is the distinct smell of hot dogs -- and hope -- in the air. Life is good ... Even if Manny didn't answer my stupid questions.