Manny Ramirez walked into a South Florida hotel conference room Friday afternoon, hugged his teammates and coaches, then anxiously faced the group.
I'm sorry, he said.
And the Los Angeles Dodgers believed him.
Ramirez made the short drive from his home to apologize to the Dodgers at their waterfront hotel before the team opened a three-game series against the Florida Marlins, the first time he'd seen them since being suspended 50 games last week for using a banned substance.
"I think he was comfortable with the people he was around," manager Joe Torre said. "But I think the circumstances made him uncomfortable."
The meeting was brief, no more than 10 minutes, said third baseman Casey Blake -- who, like Torre and other players, declined to provide many specifics. Ramirez was not at the ballpark Friday and isn't expected there this weekend, although Torre said the 12-time All-Star outfielder would discuss the situation "at whatever time he feels appropriate."
"We spent some time together before we went into the meeting room and he was a little anxious," Torre said. "That's the human side of this thing. He basically went around, shook everybody's hand. I think guys were happy to see him. I think there was a little uneasiness on both sides."
Ramirez was suspended on May 7. Dodgers owner Frank McCourt met with him twice last weekend in Los Angeles and encouraged Ramirez to apologize to teammates "eyeball to eyeball."
That opportunity came Friday. Plans for the meeting were announced Thursday night when the team arrived in South Florida, and although many Dodgers said they didn't need an apology, Ramirez issued one anyway.
"He knows he made a mistake," Blake said. "I forgive him."
Torre described the meeting as conversational and that everyone "was in pretty good spirits," especially after Ramirez went around the room for handshakes and hugs. Torre reminded Ramirez that he has his support.
Blake said players didn't ask Ramirez any questions.
"I think in Manny's case, it made him feel better just to get in front of the team," Blake said. "I think it was kind of a big load off his shoulders just to greet the team again."
A person familiar with the details of the suspension said last week that Ramirez used the female fertility drug hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin). HCG is popular among steroid users because it can mitigate the side effects of ending a cycle of the drugs.
Ramirez has said he did not take steroids and was given medication by a doctor that contained a banned substance.
"I know deep inside him, he's ashamed," first base coach Mariano Duncan said.
The Los Angeles Times first reported that Ramirez had apologized. Ramirez lives in Pembroke Pines, Fla., just a few miles away from the Marlins' ballpark.
"He's been under cover here," Torre said. "But I don't think he's been running away from reality. He's remorseful and embarrassed."
Ramirez is expected to resume workouts in the coming days, Torre said, and players said he promised that he would be ready to play when the suspension ends.
"He knows what he has done," Torre said. "He's taken responsibility for it. ... My advice to him was, 'It is what it is. You just have to get yourself ready to come back.'"
Ramirez played in 27 of the Dodgers' first 29 games, batting .348 with six homers to help them get off to their best start since 1983. The Dodgers lost four of their first five games after Ramirez was suspended, then won two straight in Philadelphia and still lead the NL West.
Ramirez led Los Angeles into last year's playoffs after joining the team at the trade deadline from the Boston Red Sox. He could be eligible to return July 3, barring rainouts or postponements.
"I'm just glad that today has come and, you know, we got through it," Torre said. "I mean, I didn't think it'd be a problem getting through it. I knew it was something we had to do."
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