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Sports

February 20, 2007

The man who was once Manny

FORT MYERS, Fla. - According to Julian Tavarez, Manny Ramirez is not coming to spring training until March 1, the mandatory report date for all players according to the collective bargaining agreement. The reliever insists that his friend of more than 15 years will be staying on the state's East Coast to tend to his sick mother.



Other than Ramirez (who would be tardy for the second straight season), showing up a week late for camp might be foreign territory. But there is an outfielder in the Red Sox camp who is no stranger to the drill - and he had Boston to blame.



The player also knows what it is like to face Daisuke Matsuzaka better than anybody else in town, while being intimately familiar with the kind of craziness that has come with this Red Sox spring training.



Alex Ochoa, a minor league free agent with the Sox, has some story to tell that jibes with just about every major story line up and down Edison Avenue.



"This isn't out of the ordinary for me at all," he said.



It starts with the first time the 34-year-old Ochoa entered himself into the fabric of Red Sox lore. In February 2003, he became the man to put the exclamation point on the Kevin Millar international incident. After Boston put its controversial waiver claim on Millar, preventing the first baseman from heading to Japan, Ochoa was the player the Chunichi Dragons chose to bring in to replace their lost import.



Ochoa, a top prospect with the Mets in the mid-1990s, was all set to report to the St. Louis Cardinals camp after spending '02 with both the Brewers and the Angels. But when Millar was finally granted his release from any commitment to Chunichi, Ochoa was presented with a much more lucrative option.



So, days after the early-February Japanese spring training reporting date had come and gone, Ochoa showed up for what would be a four-season journey.



"I left the 21st of February and I think I decided four days before that," Ochoa said. "They asked me to be there as soon as possible, but I needed at least four or five days to get ready. My whole mind-set changed. Chunichi was very embarrassed by the whole situation. It was interesting because I didn't know the situation, in a lot of ways. I heard the rumblings here and there how Millar disgraced himself and all of that. But he did me a huge favor."



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