ROUND ROCK, Texas — Manny Ramirez didn’t waste any time getting in the swing of things in his latest bid to return to the big leagues.
The 41-year-old slugger hit the first pitch he saw for a single in his debut for Triple-A Round Rock on Sunday, three days after joining the Texas Rangers on a minor league contract.
Facing a top Kansas City pitching prospect in right-hander Yordano Ventura of Omaha, Ramirez hit a soft line drive to right field leading off the second but was stranded there. He grounded into a fielder’s choice to end the third — again hitting the first pitch.
With the cheers growing louder for each at-bat, Ramirez struck out swinging on a 94 mph fastball from Ventura to end the fifth. He walked against reliever Michael Mariot in the eighth and was taken out for a pinch-runner.
“The future is greater than the past,” Ramirez said after the game.
A kinder, gentler Ramirez says he feels no pressure and has no timeline two years after his last appearance in the majors with Tampa Bay.
The 12-time All-Star who once forced his way out of Boston and twice was suspended for testing positive for banned drugs said before the game he was “so happy to get a chance to play the game I love.”
“We all do a lot of things when we are young, but if you can make it through the fire, you are changed, made better and ready for anything else,” said Ramirez, who was sporting much shorter dreadlocks after getting them cut to conform with Texas’ minor league rules.
He shaved the sides of his head because he says it makes him feel cooler in the Texas heat.
Ramirez retired rather than face a 100-game ban in his second suspension when he was with the Rays in April 2011. He served a 50-game ban for a positive drug test while with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2009.
The lifetime .312 hitter was in Los Angeles because he forced his way out of Boston, where he won two World Series. He didn’t want the Red Sox to pick up the option on his contract so he could sign a more lucrative deal elsewhere.
While Ramirez is 14th on the career home run list with 555, he has just 28 since the start of 2009 because of injuries and the drug suspensions.
He was 1 for 17 without a homer for the Rays when the drug suspension hit. A comeback attempt with Oakland last year failed.
Ramirez recently finished a three-month stint in Taiwan. He hit .352 with eight homers and 43 RBIs for the Rhinos, but wanted to return to his family in New York and then put out the word that he preferred to play either in the U.S. or Japan.
“I am just happy, my wife is happy,” Ramirez said. “I am working very hard and we’ll see where it goes. But it is a fun ride.”