Manny arrives at Red Sox camp

Manny reports to Sox camp

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The annual event known as Manny Ramirez reporting to Spring Training occurred at 8:54 a.m. ET on Monday, as the superstar slugger arrived three days before he initially told the Red Sox he'd be there.

Quickly making up for lost time, Ramirez participated in the full workout, even standing in the box against Daisuke Matsuzaka. Ramirez spent most of the day in a hitting group with pals David Ortiz and Wily Mo Pena, and sprayed line drives around the field like it was July instead of February.

"He's been hitting in the offseason," said Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell. "He's not a guy who just comes in here and this is the first time he picks up a bat. But the ability to square up a ball probably the first time ... he's got it, other guys don't, that's for sure."

Ramirez had been given permission from the club to report on March 1 because of an illness to his mother. The rest of the position players reported on Feb. 20.

The slugger quietly walked into a clubhouse and politely asked reporters to "please move, I need some space."

Otherwise, Ramirez declined to speak with reporters. In fact, the last time Ramirez granted an interview was March 1, 2006, when he held court upon his arrival to camp.

"I believe that he will answer questions at some point," said Greg Genske, Ramirez's agent. "I would expect that he would at some point."

Wearing braids with red highlights and appearing toned and in shape, Ramirez came in wearing white sweat pants and a black T-shirt. He was greeted by several teammates, including Ortiz, Alberto Castillo and Doug Mirabelli.

Ramirez's grand entrance created a buzz to an otherwise ordinary morning.

"I don't know what to expect from Manny, but it looks like he's in good shape and hopefully he's on board like everyone else," said Lowell. "I don't think it's that big a deal. I think sometimes we're trying to make it something bigger than it really is."

Upon arrival, Ramirez spent several minutes opening boxes of new equipment, including several pairs of spikes.

Reliever Julian Tavarez, Ramirez's closest friend on the team, playfully kicked over the left fielder's shoeboxes.

Then Tavarez had a message for Red Sox assistant equipment manager Edward "Pookie" Jackson.

"Pookie, Manny doesn't have running shoes, and he doesn't have spikes, either," Tavarez said. "Can you help him out, and get him $10 so he can pay for his haircut?"

It wasn't as if Ramirez eased into camp. He quickly got his physical, put on his uniform and was on the field in time for the workout.

Just a few pitches into his first round of batting practice, Ramirez hammered a Travis Hughes fastball right up the middle for a base hit.

Clearly, Ramirez wasn't laying on South Beach over the past few days.

"I know he does work hard," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "I know he's ready to play. I knew that from talking to him. I wasn't really concerned about that. My concern is, you're trying to form a team. There are more than just numbers that go into your team. But at the same time, you do the best you can every day with the players you have. That's my responsibility. And I'll continue to do that. Sometimes, everybody might not agree with how I do it, but that's what I'll do."

Francona wasn't sure when Ramirez would make his exhibition season debut, but it shouldn't be too long after the Sox kick off their Grapefruit League schedule on Wednesday against the Twins.

The mandatory reporting date for Major League players to report to camp is Feb. 27, so Ramirez beat that by a day. The fact that the Red Sox were amicable to Ramirez coming in on a different schedule for the second year in a row didn't seem to cause much of a stir in the clubhouse.

"It doesn't bother me," said Ortiz. "April 1, he'll be doing his thing; I guarantee it."

For the one thing Ramirez has always done is produce. He has topped 30 homers and 100 RBIs for nine consecutive seasons.

Ramirez is beginning his seventh season with the Red Sox. He has two years remaining on an eight-year, $160 million contract. Ramirez was involved in trade rumors over the winter -- yet again -- but as is seemingly the case every year, the Red Sox couldn't find a deal that would make them better.

According to Genske, Ramirez is enthusiastic about the dawn of another season.

"I think he feels very good," Genske said. "He's very optimistic he's going to have a great season."

As for the right knee that limited Ramirez to just eight starts over the final six weeks of 2006, Genske said it's no longer an issue.

"I think he has the green light," Genske said. "There's always going to be precautions once you have an injury that you don't reinjure it, but he's healthy and he's ready to go."

With Ramirez in tow, the Red Sox now have a full house.

"If he wouldn't be ready April 1, I think it would be a major problem," said Lowell. "But he always is. That fact, I think, also is a factor of how much leeway he's given. The numbers are there every year."

Ian Browne is a reporter for Mike Petraglia contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.