Sun, Apr 1st 2012, 10:48
The two faces of the Miami Marlins infield had become one, a tangle of smiles, twinkling eyes and orange hair. The tight curls of Hanley Ramirez and Jose Reyes were dyed the team color in a spring-silly display of spirit. Even their eyebrows were orange.
The goofy gesture, phone-photoed and tweeted, held a deeper meaning. The uber-talented Ramirez, for so long indifferent and unresponsive, has come around. He’s been warmed by Reyes’ sunbeam, humbled by manager Ozzie Guillen’s commanding presence, and honed by infield coach Joey Cora’s relentless personal instruction.
A pivotal question entering camp was whether the clubhouse would be ruled by the nonchalance of Ramirez or the joyfulness of newcomer Reyes. Thickening the plot was Reyes taking the shortstop job Ramirez held since winning rookie of the year in 2006. Reyes is making more money and Ramirez was told to move to third base.
Everyone was braced for a pouting Ramirez to poison the clubhouse. Every spoonful of sugar sprinkled by Reyes would be countered by sourness from the incumbent. After all, Ramirez had been all but called a dog by front-office special assistant and former Marlins World Series hero Jeff Conine, who said last season: “I would say if you define [not respecting the game] as not going out there and putting 100 percent on the field every day, yeah, I would say, no, he doesn’t.”
But with less than a week before the Marlins open the season in a new ballpark with new uniforms and new optimism, the about-face from Ramirez is perhaps the most heartening change of all. By all accounts, he has worked overtime to learn the intricacies of third base. He’s batting .378 with two home runs, including the first in the new stadium when the Marlins played an exhibition against the University of Miami two weeks ago.
And he’s Reyes’ mejor amigo, sharing video games, dinner and the left side of the infield with an easy manner not to be confused with nonchalance.