COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- When Cubs president Theo Epstein brought Manny Ramirez aboard to their Triple-A affiliate, he made it clear that the player/coach wasn't going to make it on the Major League roster or steal at-bats from highly touted prospects.
But with the Iowa Cubs facing 14 innings of doubleheader baseball on Thursday, Ramirez was surprised to find himself batting sixth and playing left field in Game 2 on the day he joined the team.
Playing for his third different Triple-A affiliate in as many years, Ramirez debuted with an 0-for-4, two-strikeout performance in the Iowa Cubs' 7-6 loss to the Colorado Springs Sky Sox.
"It's been almost a year since I've been playing," said Ramirez, who most recently played for the EDA Rhinos of the Chinese Professional Baseball League in 2013. "It feels great just to be here … and to help the young guys [by] just telling them my experiences and the things that I've went through. It's a blessing just to be here."
Having been out of the Majors since 2011, Ramirez, 42, spent Thursday focusing more on fitting in as player rather than coaching.
"I was just trying to get to know everybody," Ramirez said. "First just trying to be their friend, then when I get some confidence with them then I'll say, 'Hey, I'll tell you something.' But I don't want to come out right away and say, 'You're doing this and doing that.'"
As for why he chose to sign a Minor League deal with the Cubs on May 25, Ramirez's answer was open-ended but honest.
"As long as I'm here and I keep working, you never know what could happen," Ramirez said. "I think God has a reason for me to be here. … He opened the door and I'm just here."
In the same breath, Ramirez added that he understands and fully accepts his role within the organization.
"They told me that when the guys need some rest, I'm probably going to [receive an] opportunity one or two times a week," Ramirez said.
But Thursday was just about getting back into the rhythm.
Ramirez reached in the first after shortstop Rafael Ynoa failed to wrangle a high-bouncing ground ball he sent his way. The play was ruled an error, but Josh Vitters was able to score, giving Iowa a 2-0 lead.
In his next at-bat, Ramirez fouled off three pitches before whiffing on a slider from right-hander Wilton Lopez in the third inning. Having just struck out the Major League's all-time leader in postseason home runs, Colorado Springs manager Glenallen Hill felt the timing was right to end Lopez's spot start.
Facing right-hander Chad Bettis in the fifth, Ramirez struck out on another slider in a four-pitch at-bat.
Ramirez closed out his evening with the best contact of the night, lining out to center field for the second out of the seventh inning. Although he wasn't able to register a hit, Ramirez never felt out of place.
"I wasn't guessing," Ramirez said. "They just made good pitches. But it's been such a long time since I faced a pitcher, so it felt great."
Ramirez's night in left field was mostly uneventful despite the Sky Sox scoring seven runs.
He saw his first action when Brooks Brown sent a third-inning double into the gap. Ramirez admitted it felt "weird" to see the ball heading his way considering he hasn't played in the field since 2010 with the Dodgers. Perhaps that's why Ramirez allowed speedy center fielder Arismendy Alcantara to track down the ball instead.
Ramirez did play a double off the wall nicely in the bottom of the fourth, but that was the only other opportunity in the field he'd see.
"It's still hard, especially in the outfield and running the bases," Ramirez said. "Your body has to get used to the feeling of [everything]."
Cody Ulm is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less