Hanley excited to help Red Sox build on 2016

After comeback year, newly appointed DH displaying team-first approach

Hanley excited to help Red Sox build on 2016

Hanley Ramirez's enthusiasm for all things baseball has been infectious for the past several months, making it hard to fathom he was at a crossroads just a year ago.

After Ramirez turned in a subpar (.717 OPS) and injury-plagued (105 games) 2015 season, Red Sox Nation all but begged president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski to trade the veteran run producer.

But the Red Sox exercised patience and were rewarded with Ramirez's prolific 2016 season, and they now look forward to having him under contract for two more years.

At David Ortiz's Celebrity Golf Classic earlier this month in the Dominican Republic, attendees had the chance to bid on a day of golf with several stars from around the game, as well as entertainers and prominent athletes from other sports.

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Ramirez drew the top bid from a foursome that donated $21,000 to Ortiz's charity for the honor of golfing with the Red Sox's new designated hitter.

Yes, Ramirez is taking over for his close friend and mentor Ortiz at DH, and he's doing so in a team-first way.

"I just want to play and have my four at-bats, maybe five. It doesn't matter," Ramirez said recently. "Just go out there and kick some butt. It doesn't matter where I'm going to be playing. I'm not a person who says I want to do this or want to do that. I'm just going to go into Spring Training and do whatever they ask me."

Though Ramirez played a solid first base in 2016 -- his first year at the position -- he expressed no apprehension when the Red Sox signed free agent Mitch Moreland to take over that position. Ramirez will still get some action at first.

"Hanley has done a great job of putting himself in the position physically to withstand the number of games he played at first base last year," said Red Sox manager John Farrell. "He had a comeback year in his own right. But with the move to DH, he's just been a very good team player and his comments are reflective of that."

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Less than two months after his Red Sox were eliminated by the Indians in the American League Division Series, Ramirez is carrying himself like a player who wishes the 2017 season was already close to starting. The fact that Boston has added another ace in Chris Sale has only added to his excitement.

"I think I'm more motivated this year, because we didn't go further in the playoffs," Ramirez said. "I can't wait to get back and go to the playoffs and go further."

Ramirez has continued the offseason conditioning program he embarked on with such fervor a year ago. While he has spent most of the offseason training near his South Florida home, Ramirez will be playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic starting Monday as a tuneup for the World Baseball Classic.

Earlier this week, Ramirez posted a picture on social media of him crouching down next to his loaded-up equipment bag, expressing his excitement for playing for his "beloved" Winter League team, the Licey Tigers.

Ramirez's body wasn't the only thing he fixed last year. Just as key was a hitch he found in his swing after extensive work with hitting coach Chili Davis.

"I was able to find something in my swing in Spring Training with our hitting coach and go from there and slow my swing down," said Ramirez. "You have to be strong in your mind. Come out and be you and do what you're supposed to do."

Maligned for not being enough of a leader earlier in his career, Ramirez now embraces being part of the group that will keep the Red Sox strong as they embark on life after Big Papi.

"The only thing you can do is just help with the young guys like David always did and deal with [the media]," Ramirez said. "That's something that's not going to change. We still have Pedey [Dustin Pedroia], and we're going to be the same team -- together as a group. Not just one guy. That's what we did last year."

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.