I feel like I wind up writing about Hanley Ramirez a lot. I don’t know when or if he became one of my “favorite” players — those select few who get cataloged and immortalized in t-shirts and stupid toys that surround my desk because I am, you see, an adult — but I damn sure find myself fascinated with him. I saw him play shortstop in Portland in 2005 and his trade just about sealed a World Series for the Red Sox two years later. And then he was the best player in the world for a couple of years. It’s quite a backstory.
That’s not how it gets told, though. It’s that he’s difficult, he can’t play in the field, he’s weird, he’s whatever.
What he’s been at his best, though, is a hitter with a flair for entertainment. And through the first seven games of the 2018 season, Ramirez — fully healthy and enjoying the moment — has spent most of his time delivering the Red Sox from possible early losses.
He topped off an eventful home opener on Thursday with that same flair. Jackie Bradley Jr. tied up the game 2-2 in the bottom of the ninth to keep the Sox alive, and with one out in the 12th inning, Ramirez stepped up with the bases loaded in an at-bat that almost felt inevitable.
With one out on the board, he went the other way to send a double into right field over Tampa Bay’s Carlos Gomez. The ball hit the turf, bounced, hit the top of the wall, fell back to the ground while Bradley crossed the plate for the winning run. All the while, Ramirez was smiling and sprinting away from his teammates, leading them on a chase into right field and back towards the first base dugout before finally being hit with some water and the bear hugs of his teammates.
This is becoming something of the norm for him. In the first of a two-game stand in Miami, Ramirez hit his first home run — a screamer into the left field stands — and made good on a promise to give his jersey to a fan he’d met if he did such a thing. The next game ended in the 13th inning when Hanley hit a double to left to bring in Benintendi for the go-ahead run.
And none of this should be surprising. When he was healthy in 2016, he was a force in the lineup behind David Ortiz, hitting 30 home runs with 111 RBI and an .866 OPS, all while embracing his new role at first base. With a healthy shoulder, he’s back playing the field regularly — necessitated by J.D. Martinez’s presence in the DH slot, but playing it with vigor. Manager Alex Cora even noted that in Spring Training, he was schooling the other infielders on their defensive assignments, remembering to change to a different shift with a new pitcher on the mound.
As Cora said, “I mean, if Hanley is buying into the defensive alignments, we’re fine.”
They seem fine, for sure. They’re not lighting up the scoreboard early in the year, but they are 6-1 at the start. The pitching staff is doing their jobs, they’re defending crisply and they’re earning wins. In the middle of all of that, there’s Hanley doing his thing.
I feel like I wind up writing about him a lot because of just that. For all the perceived unhappiness or discomfort with the media misinterpreted as something sinister, I keep seeing a guy who wants to play the game and wants to have fun doing it. And he’s really good at both. And in turn, that’s fun to write about.