The ticket lines formed on Tuesday outside Isotopes Park in Albuquerque, New Mexico, hours before the first pitch. The Nashville Sounds were in town, but that didn't matter. Normally, a game like this would draw a couple thousand out to the ballpark, 5,000 tops. Instead, the grassy berm in right field was packed, the stands were standing-room-only, and the Lotaburger Picnic Pavilion in left field was teeming with cheering fans.
What would draw an Isotopes Park-record crowd of 15,321, with another 13,076 to follow the next night, even through rain showers? Why, of course! Steroid cheat Manny Ramirez was starting a minor-league assignment to get his body back into playing shape, ramping down his 50-game suspension for the use of performance enhancing drugs. Team merchandisers were scrambling to have boxes of Manny #99 Isotopes jerseys shipped in so they could be hauled down from the walls of the gift shop by Manny-loving fans.
Did these New Mexicans come out to jeer Ramirez, to scorn him for adding his name to baseball's shameful list of 500-plus home run hitters who are now tainted with the steroid needle? Of course not. Their only boos were directed on Wednesday night at Nashville starter Tim Dillard when he walked Manny on four pitches. Ramirez, lounging in left field while batting leadoff, played four innings and then disappearing into the Albuquerque night, and still managed to draw more than 28,000 fans to a beautiful minor league ballpark over the course of two games.
What's wrong with this picture? Why should a tainted man's sidework become a cash cow for a franchise and a traveling roadshow for fans to adore? Is it right for a system's minor leagues to profit from the apperance of a player who is only there because he broke the rules and cheated the game? Isn't this like charging admission to watch Mike Tyson fight in the prison yard? Read more of 619Sports.net's coverage to see what Craig Elsten thinks the answers to these questions are.