- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN Insider
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Hanley Ramirez's small gestures this spring have been noticed by those around him: making conversation with younger hitters around the cage, or in the clubhouse; calling over to young third baseman Matt Dominguez, who is a strong defender but is still finding his sea legs at the major league level; chatting with others in the clubhouse.
The national perception of Ramirez after his much-publicized run-in with Fredi Gonzalez last May was that of a surly know-it-all. You remember what happened: Ramirez loped after a ball, instead of running hard, and Gonzalez met him at the front of the dugout after the half inning was over and pulled him from the game. Ramirez famously tore into his manager afterward.
But others on the team who know him say he is sensitive to criticism, and despite his initial and angry defensiveness in the first day after the incident, Ramirez has learned from the episode, and grown from it. "I think he's beginning to understand how much other young players look up to him," said one friend. "And I think he's taking that seriously."
It's still early March, of course. Ramirez has been in camp only a couple of weeks, and if he is to evolve into the type of respected leader that he says he wants to be -- someone like a Victor Martinez or a Dustin Pedroia -- then his openness and helpfulness and tolerance have to become a consistent part of his personality.
But the signs of change are there for Ramirez, who is, at age 27, the face of the Florida Marlins franchise.
• A.J. Pierzynski has had an unusual spring training, to the delight of his teammates. My colleague Charlie Moynihan sent this along, plus a picture:
On Wednesday, White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski was handed a speeding ticket on his way to a Spring Training game -- in full uniform. The cop ticketed the Sox catcher for going 75 mph in a 65 zone on Interstate 10. Pierzynski said, "I've never been pulled over in my uniform and given a ticket. Full uni was interesting. So I loved it when he said, 'Oh, you play for the White Sox?' I said, 'How did you guess?' Figure it out."
Pierzynski was driving from the White Sox complex in Glendale to the Reds park in Goodyear -- a 15-minute drive.
"He said, 'You know why I pulled you over?' I said, 'No, but ... I have a good idea, I guess. I was trying to get to the game so I won't be late. I play for the White Sox.' He said, 'Yeah, license and registration. See you later.'"
Fast-forward to Friday. Pedro Gomez was talking to Adam Dunn before the game. In the ensuing conversation, laughter erupted. Pierzynski stopped at a Subway -- in FULL UNIFORM again -- to order a sandwich before the White Sox game against the Angels. Pedro posted this on his Twitter account and it spread like wildfire -- hundreds of followers within an hour. Over the span of three days, Pierzynski acquired a speeding ticket and a Subway sandwich in full uniform.
Jayson Stark wrote in depth about the questions regarding the Philadelphia offense.
I've heard this question asked by an All-Star pitcher on another team this spring: "If you were facing the Phillies, why would you throw anything other than a breaking ball to Ryan Howard in a big spot?" His thinking is three-fold: No. 1, the perception is that Howard is more likely to swing and miss at a breaking ball; No. 2, Howard tends to get frustrated and expand the strike zone when he's not getting pitches to hit; and No. 3, if you walk Howard, there really isn't anybody who hits behind him that concerns you.
• In each of the first four days after Edwin Rodriguez was named manager of the Marlins last year, he got a call from the same guy, a friend who was checking in on him and making sure that he was OK and getting acclimated.
That friend? Fredi Gonzalez, who was fired from the Marlins' managerial job and replaced by Rodriguez. "It's typical of Fredi," Rodriguez said. "He's a great guy."
• Bud Selig is staying quiet on the topic of the Dodgers' ownership, writes Bill Shaikin.
• The Boston Red Sox are very excited by what they've seen this spring from Andrew Miller, who threw what one evaluator called "the best inning I've ever seen" -- seven pitches, two strikeouts and a fastball that hit 99 mph. Boston hasn't committed to a role for Miller, but the signs point to him being used out of the bullpen, if he continues to throw as well as he has in the first week of action.
• Count the Red Sox folks among the many who are raving about Manny Banuelos, the 19-year-old lefty who has been dominant for the Yankees' so far this spring. Banuelos threw against Boston on Friday night.
• Marlins closer Leo Nunez has been working on a slider to complement his fastball and changeup. The other day, Nunez threw a spinner so well that after the half inning, home plate umpire Angel Hernandez -- who is not often moved to chatty conversation -- walked over to tell Rodriguez that Nunez's slider was among the best he had seen.
• Something worth considering: What team would benefit the most from source-fueled speculation that the Tampa Bay Rays might be contracted?
The Rays, of course -- they could use some leverage in their fight to improve their ballpark situation. There is zero momentum for contraction these days, and it will not be discussed in the upcoming labor talks.
Dings and dents
8. Jason Heyward plans to play today, writes David O'Brien.
Moves, deals and decisions
2. Ron Gardenhire has settled on his middle infield alignment, Joe Christensen writes.
The battle for jobs
1. Kyle McClellan looked sharp in his spring debut, Rick Hummel writes.
5. A Red Sox prospect is being helped by what he is showing on the field.
6. Brett Lawrie mashed another home run, and Toronto is 7-4 this spring.
7. Jacob Turner looks ready for the big leagues, but there is no need for the Tigers to rush him, writes Lynn Henning.
• It's been a relatively calm spring training for the Giants, writes John Shea.
• The Indians can be winners only if everything goes right, writes Sheldon Ocker.
• Here's a way to tell whether the Mariners are developing players or buying time, Jerry Brewer writes.
• Vanderbilt did not finish its regular season on a high note, for sure.
And today will be better than yesterday.
10dJeff Banister, Special to ESPN.com
11dBrayan Pena, Special to ESPN.com
14dMatt Buschmann, Special to ESPN.com
15dA.J. Ellis, Special for ESPN.com
16dRob Manfred, Special to ESPN.com