Manny Ramirez is still hitting baseballs with the greatest of ease—just not in Major League Baseball, mind you. Ramirez, who endured a rocky 2012 season in which he ultimately didn't play a game in the bigs, suited up for the Las Aguilas Eagles of the Dominican Winter League tonight. In the first pitch of his first at-bat, in front of an estimated 22,000 fans, Ramirez homered to right field and sent the crowd (and announcing crew) into near-hysterics. Yeah, he's a serial PED-user and, yeah, the competition in the D.R. pales in comparison to MLB, but if just for a second, it was easy to remember just how talented Manny Ramirez was in his prime.
Here's more from ESPN Deportes:
Manny Ramirez homered on the first pitch he saw in his return to winter ball in the Dominican Republic, on Wednesday, after 18 years of absence.
Ramirez, who has hit 555 homers in 19 seasons in the majors, sent a Daniel Cabrera pitch straight over the right field fence of Cibao Stadium in Santiago, in the north of the island, to give a 1-0 lead to the Las Aguilas Eagles over the Escogido Lions.
Both Ramirez and Cabrera wear T-shirts with the number 99. After the announcement that Ramirez would debut on Wednesday, fans bought the 20,000 tickets available at Cibao Stadium on Tuesday.
It was just the third homer in the league for Ramirez, who hasn't played there since the 1994-95 season. The slugger hit .243 with 15 doubles, seven triples and two homers in 288 innings with the Eagles from 1991 to 1995, before becoming one of the best right-handed hitters in major league history.
A 12-time All-Star who hit .312 with 1,831 RBI, Ramirez retired from baseball in April 2011, after committing a second violation of the substance abuse program. When Ramirez tried to play with the Eagles last season, commissioner Bud Selig stopped him until he fulfilled a 50-game suspension that was pending.
Ramirez, 40, signed a minor league contract with the Oakland Athletics and served his sentence in AAA, but became a free agent when he was released from Oakland last June.
"I'm not thinking about the big leagues now," Ramirez said when he joined the Eagles. "Right now I'm thinking of helping the Eagles to win games and then, if any offer, then I'll think of baseball," he added.