Have you heard of the Miami Marlins' newest, most hard-working player on the team?
He walked through the Marlins' clubhouse door at 5:30 a.m. He could have sworn he heard a noise coming from the weight room.
Couldn't be, right? Not at 5:30 in the morning. Not when the bus was supposed to leave before sunrise for a three-hour trek to scenic Port Charlotte.
So Joey Cora listened again, then poked his head inside that weight room and was shocked by what he saw.
It was Hanley Ramirez, of all people, doing his agility drills.
"What the [heck] are you doing here?" the Marlins' bench coach asked, incredulously.
"Gotta get my work in," Ramirez told Cora. "The bus leaves at 7."
That's right, the Marlins acquired a hard-working early-riser to play third base for them this season, and his name is - wait, it's Hanley Ramirez?
Welcome, friends, to the world of the "new" Hanley Ramirez. He's a third baseman now. We're guessing you've heard about that. But as that 5:30 a.m. journey to the weight room would suggest, that isn't all about this guy that seems to have changed.
He has morphed, all of a sudden, into your basic, happy-go-lucky workaholic. And that, we're guessing, would be something you'd find fairly mind-blowing.
You never hear this sort of praise about Ramirez's work ethic and training, but there is ESPN's Jayson Stark praising Ramirez for his efforts this offseason. And some of that praise is definitely earned: Ramirez is coming in early to work with bench coach Alex Cora on ground balls at his new position, and he has been working hard this offseason to adjust to his new position. He came into camp at 227 pounds, down eight pounds from last year's mark closer to 235. He is working hard to rehab his shoulder and back in preparation for a critical 2012 season.
But you wonder just how much of this attention to Ramirez's so-called "work ethic" is due to his early success in Spring Training. Stark and MLB.com's Joe Frisaro had a lot of good things to say while Ramirez has been on an early hot streak, but would they have felt the same way about his dedication to the team if he were hitting, say, what Jose Reyes is hitting in Spring Training (.182/.182/.273) thus far?
And this is not to say that Ramirez is not doing what everyone is talking about. I just wonder how much of a change this is compared to what we've seen in years past, when Ramirez's so-called attitude problems were also "changed" during Spring Training.In the past, there has been mention that Ramirez's numerous attitude issues have been on the way to being resolved. In fact, during Spring Training last season, there was talk about how much Ramirez had improved as a teammate, yet that talk quickly went down the drain as his season spiraled into oblivion. No one was mentioning how Ramirez was quietly going about his Spring Training business when he was suffering from injuries and ineffectiveness and being questioned for his toughness and leadership by rookie left fielders.
And again, it does not mean that Ramirez is not working extremely hard this offseason. Supposedly, he spent much of the offseason training with Toronto Blue Jays outfielder and third baseman Jose Bautista in an extreme regiment in the hopes to get him back into shape and healthy. And we all saw the picture of Ramirez spending time training with the equally buff Miguel Cabrera. So we do not doubt that Ramirez did his fair share of training.
We do have this from Ramirez himself regarding how he changed his regiment:
"I never worked that much," Ramirez said. "But I knew that I needed it because I didn't play the whole season. The other years, I always played over 150 games, so I just went back, got some rest and started [working out] in January. But after what happened last year, I knew I needed to work harder to get back soon on the field."
So he admits that he had to work more because his season was cut short. But my gut says that Ramirez was just as willing to work on his game in previous years, even if he started in January rather than December as he did this season. Yes, he has more to prove this season, and perhaps that has motivated him to step up his game, but so many players get the "best shape in their life" treatment during Spring Training that it is hard to distinguish whether this is a real change or more of the same from a player.
This is especially true because of how rose-colored Ramirez's outlook appears right now. Everyone involved with the Marlins has to be happy with his play at the moment, as he is on fire and looking like someone who could be an MVP candidate once more. But you have to wonder whether we are not receiving accounts of his improved training because of the good play. It is easy to jump on the bandwagon of a guy who is succeeding in an extreme way like Ramirez is right now. If he were struggling in Spring Training, whether the problems were mechanical or just a statistical fluke, do you think we would hear such effusive praise for him? I feel like the media would have fallen on old habits and decried Ramirez's sullen attitude, even if what he is really doing is simply going about his business.
I am happy to hear about Ramirez's strong play in Spring Training. I am happy to hear about his improved work ethic. I am even happy to hear (and see) that he and Jose Reyes play video games together. But I have to wonder whether all of this would be as optimistic if a few of his singles this Spring Training had been turned into fly ball outs.