Tuesday, March 13, 2012 | 2:55 p.m.
Manny Ramirez arrived in Kinston, North Carolina, in 1992 for the second stop of his professional baseball career. With equipment bags flung over his shoulders, he strode into a small, red-bricked building that housed a single-A baseball front office staff of four people, a hot water heater, a small unisex restroom that lacked knee room, and a number of critters and insects that resided behind baseboards and simulated walnut paneling.
I turned from my desk, and the 20-year-old Ramirez dropped his bags from his shoulders to my feet and told me to take them to his locker, a locker that sat in a separate building approximately 320 feet down the left field line. Seeming - and perhaps wanting - to recall that our small staff had been asked by our parent club Cleveland Indians to not serve Ramirez hand and foot, I tersely declined and went about my business of preparing the stadium's food and beverage operation for opening night.
That year, Ramirez hit .278 with 13 home runs and 115 RBI in an injury-plagued season. I went on to hit .986 on ordering hot dogs on time with a $6.72 per cap and an increase in revenue capacity of 28% in an injury-free campaign.
But, enough about Manny Ramirez.
Brian Giles was also among the 12 players from the 1992 single-A Kinston Indians that would quickly make it to the Major Leagues. And now 20 years down the road, Ramirez has unretired and signed with the Oakland A's, while Giles has remained retired since playing two spring training games for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2010.
If you lived in Kinston in 1992, a $4 general admission ticket allowed you to see two players that would eventually combine for 842 home runs, 2,909 RBI, and one 50-game suspension over the span of 4,149 Major League games.
But chances are high that whatever contrasts any baseball fan could see between Ramirez and Giles in the years since are true to what I saw every day during that summer 20 years ago.
I recall seeing Ramirez begin to become the perceived Ramirez fans have known since, minus the dreadlocks that, at their furthest ends, must have been on his head at the very time he dropped his bags at my feet in 1992.
And I remember Giles watching a Major League All-Star game in a small North Carolina town in a manner that almost seemed as if he were preparing – even on an off day – for some opportunity that was just a dutiful work ethic away. While many teammates enjoyed a day off from bus rides throughout the Carolina League and drank beer pulled from a Styrofoam cooler just on the other side of sliding glass doors, Giles gazed to the television as if he were actually in the batter's box.
He was studying, I thought.
To stand behind the batting cage during batting practice while Ramirez hit was to see a ball jump off the bat in ways I hadn't seen since I saw Leon Durham do it in AAA Louisville a few seasons before. And with Giles, there was no such thing as a clean uniform and a casual attempt.
It's easy to dismiss this as a contrast between raw talent and consuming desire; the former perceived as a free ride to success and the latter perceived as its cause. It's the inexplicable contraposition of the natural and the gamer, inexplicable because it's rarely obvious to find a personality that combines both of these traits.
The truth is, very few know how each of these personalities prepared or maintained over the seasons, or if they've truly optimized their given skills. Nor can anyone say with certainty that each could have done more, or if they've actually over achieved. And certainly, no one knows the price each has paid and what bill collector may arrive later.
There are takeaways for those who care to take note, and for me this is one; any team that can manage and coach them both – whether in sports or around the break room water cooler – is the winner, and that is chemistry defined.
Twenty years removed from a little town amid cotton fields and vinegar-based barbeque, Ramirez goes for it again and Giles looks back at what seemed to be a well-earned career, while those who knew them then are still concerned, metaphorically at least, with the hot dogs.