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Manny Ramierz Mystery

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Manny Ramirez will arrive late to Red Sox camp _ again. Now the question is, why?

Is he tending to his ailing mother or going to a car show?

The enigmatic slugger received permission from the team to report late to spring training for family reasons _ but he was slated to attend an auto auction in New Jersey on Saturday, according to the promoter of the event.

It wasn't immediately clear if the club was aware of Ramirez's scheduled appearance at the Atlantic City Classic Cars Auction. Boston's first full-squad workout is Thursday. Under the collective bargaining agreement, the deadline for players to report to camp is next Tuesday.

Boston general manager Theo Epstein said Wednesday that Ramirez has an excused absence and will report on March 1 for the second straight year. On Monday, pitcher Julian Tavarez, Ramirez's close friend, said the slugger's mother recently had surgery and Ramirez was with her in Florida.

``He's got a family situation,'' Epstein said in Fort Myers, Fla. ``I think the important thing from our perspective at this point is when he does show up on March 1 that he's ready to go, accountable to his teammates, accountable to the organization.''

But later Wednesday, Ramirez's plans to appear at the car show surfaced in a report posted on The Boston Globe's Web site. It said Ramirez's mother's condition might prevent him from attending _ and it wasn't known when the appearance was initially scheduled.

Louise Cunningham, who works for G. Potter King, the Berlin, N.J., car dealer promoting the auction, told The Associated Press that Ramirez was still expected at the event.

``All we know, he's coming at noon on Saturday, nothing else,'' she said.

Ramirez is a collector of classic cars. His 1967 four-door Lincoln Continental Sedan convertible is listed in Saturday's auction as number 1747A. In parentheses on the auction list is a note: Owned by Manny Ramirez.

Epstein said he spoke Tuesday with Ramirez's agent, Greg Genske. The GM also said manager Terry Francona had talked with Genske and Ramirez. But Epstein made no mention of the car show.

Neither Epstein nor Genske returned e-mails seeking comment.

Another big-money outfielder, J.D. Drew, showed up at camp with no complaints about the Red Sox adding conditions to his new contract to protect them in case he re-injures his shoulder.

Drew said he's as healthy as he's ever been in his career and he's sure his surgically repaired right shoulder will hold up throughout his $70 million, five-year deal.

``Absolutely,'' Drew said. ``I've been in a situation over the last three years where I've changed some things in the way I kind of manage myself off the field, and that's really paid off.''

Drew reached a preliminary agreement with Boston on Dec. 5 after opting out of the last three years of his five-year, $55 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers. On Jan. 26, the Red Sox finally announced the deal after language was inserted allowing them to get out of the guaranteed money for 2010 and 2011 if he re-injures his shoulder. He had surgery on the shoulder in September 2005.

``Completely normal,'' Drew said about the delay in finalizing the deal. ``I was under a complete understanding that the deal was a done deal. They just wanted to get some wording in to protect them and I was fine with that. I went about my business as usual.''

He said he got another opinion on his shoulder from doctors and it feels ``great'' now.

``I've been throwing, hitting, doing all things I need to be doing to get ready to be here,'' he said.

At Kissimmee, Fla., Mike Hampton was on the mound, though he's still far from a sure thing for the Atlanta Braves this season.

Seventeen months after reconstructive surgery on his left elbow, Hampton threw batting practice during the first full-squad workout of spring training. But he stuck mostly with his fastball, mixing in a couple of changeups before calling it a day.

``Nice and easy,'' said Hampton, who estimated he was throwing at about 75 percent. ``I didn't want to push it. Now, we'll see how it feels tomorrow.''

At Scottsdale, Ariz., San Francisco Giants closer Armando Benitez faced hitters for the first time since Sept. 2, taking the mound against a group that included Barry Bonds.

``I feel like I am at 80-85 percent,'' Benitez said. ``More important, I don't feel any pain and I used my legs.''

Benitez saved a team-best 17 games last year, but his season ended prematurely due to right knee inflammation. He also began the year on the disabled list and missed time with soreness in his elbow and knee.

``I want to make sure that I'm ready to go when I take the mound,'' Benitez said. ``I'm not going to just hurry up and play in the games. I want to be physically and mentally ready.''

At Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Baltimore Orioles pitcher Kris Benson is trying to avoid surgery on his injured right shoulder with aggressive rehabilitation.

Following the advice of two of the three medical experts he consulted, Benson will start a program geared toward easing the pain from a torn rotator cuff. If successful, it would allow him to pitch this season.

``It feels fine,'' Benson said. ``It's sore in certain spots, certain angles, certain positions I put my arm in. It's not like I walk around and I'm hurting all around. It's just a matter of baseball activities are a little bit of a problem.

``Right now, I'm just happy to be down here, glad to be with Richie (Bancells) and his training staff. I'll let them take a look at it over the next few weeks and see what they can do and get this problem solved.''

In other news, Washington closer Chad Cordero and San Diego second baseman Todd Walker won their salary hearings, leaving owners with a 4-3 edge this year in cases decided by arbitration panels.

Cordero received a raise to $4.15 million from $525,000 instead of the club's offer of $3.65 million. Walker will get an increase from $2.5 million to $3.95 million instead of the Padres' $2.75 million offer.

Also, Chicago White Sox shortstop Juan Uribe received permission from a judge in the Dominican Republic to attend spring training in Tucson, Ariz. Uribe, accused of shooting a Dominican farmer in October, said he would head to camp Thursday.
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