Four years after last MLB game, Manny can’t let go, rejects ‘retirement’

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Manny Ramirez at Marlins Park before Monday’s game between the Cubs and Miami Marlins.

MIAMI – Manny Ramirez smiled easily as he made the rounds, chatting with Cubs hitters, in the visitors clubhouse at Marlins Park, not far from his Miami-area home, his two school-age sons tagging along for an afternoon of playing catch and shagging during batting practice.

“I think my job is awesome,” said Ramirez, 43, the twice-suspended drug cheat who has found a second baseball life as a Cubs’ hitting consultant.

Today he is in Miami, counseling struggling young hitters Starlin Castro and Jorge Soler. By next week he could be with AAA Iowa working with strikeout-prone slugger Javy Baez.

“I like what I do. I love it,” said Ramirez, who sounds, finally, like he’s done chasing his own major league comeback dream – more than four years after his last big-league game.

So is this it? Is he finally done playing?

“Yeah,” he said.

There it is: Manny Ramirez’s official retirement announcement.

Uh, not so fast.

“I’m not retired because I’m thinking about going and playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic,” said Ramirez, who did that last winter and hit .313 with a .920 OPS in 41 games.

“You never know,” he said. “I’m going to go play in the Dominican with no expectations. I like to play for my country. It’s unbelievable.”

Clearly, Ramirez is done as a big-league player no matter what happens in the D.R. He only stopped playing in 2011 because he was suspended a second time for performance-enhancing drugs.

Maybe that’s why he can’t seem to say he’s done. Because it was only under compromise that he left, because it was never on his terms.

If nothing else, he has found a voice in his role with the Cubs – which began with his stunning hiring a year ago as a player-coach for an Iowa team with some of the organization’s top hitting prospects.

Young Cubs hitters seem to perk up when he approaches, hang on the words and gush about his influence.

“I like to pass [along] my knowledge, and it’s easy because sometimes it’s about the way you prepare, and the talent is there,” he said. “Sometimes you go to the plate and the first slider that you see you go and chase it. Come on, you’re a fastball hitter wait for your pitch. You’re not obligated to swing at a slider. Let it go.

“I mess around with Starlin. I tell him, `Don’t be afraid to hit a double. Don’t be afraid to hit an extra-base hit. They going to fine you if you get an extra-base hit?’ “

A few hours after he joked with Castro, the shortstop hit an eighth-inning home run against the Marlins Monday night – his first extra-base hit in more than a week, only his second in nearly three weeks.

It’s a new game for Ramirez these days. A second life. A different life.

And one that almost certainly will allow him at some point to find the terms to finally stop chasing ghosts, to finally let go.

“I got used to what I’m doing,” he said of his new place in the game. “I’m with the kids. I’m with my family. And it’s awesome.”

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