Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles Times

The scene in left field at Petco Park on Thursday was like something out of the Old Testament -- and Manny Ramirez wasn't even there.

The first bizarre episode of what could be an eventful weekend took place on the eve of the Dodgers' series opener at the San Diego Padres' ballpark, as a couple of thousand bees swarmed the area in the outfield that Ramirez is expected to patrol tonight when he returns from a 50-game suspension for violating baseball's drug policy.

"I have no idea where they came from," said Luke Yoder, the ballpark's head groundskeeper.

Perhaps Ramirez sent them . . .

"If he could do that . . . " Padres closer Heath Bell said, his voice trailing off.

Well, the 52-minute delay in the Padres' 7-2 loss to the Houston Astros might be only the opening act of what Dodgers second baseman Orlando Hudson described as "the circus."

With Ramirez set to play in his first major league game in 57 days, the often half-empty ballpark will welcome a capacity crowd and as many as 150 credentialed members of the media.

What will unfold is anyone's guess.

"Hard to say," Jason Schmidt said. "I don't know."

On a rehabilitation assignment with the Dodgers' triple-A affiliate in Albuquerque, Schmidt recently recalled the way Barry Bonds was treated in these parts when they played together for the San Francisco Giants.

Schmidt was the Giants' starting pitcher on that April day in 2006 when a fan at Petco Park threw a syringe in the direction of Bonds, who, like Ramirez, was a left fielder.

Schmidt, now with the Dodgers, said he was fairly certain Ramirez wouldn't get such rough treatment.

"It's not quite the same," Schmidt said when comparing their situations.

He said he thinks that because of the number of high-profile players linked to steroids in recent years, fans are no longer as outraged to hear about a player's alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs.

In fact, Schmidt said, "People are probably tired of hearing about that."

Ramirez hasn't detailed the circumstances that led to his suspension, including why a drug test he took in the spring showed elevated levels of testosterone or why he had a prescription for a female fertility drug that is banned by baseball.

Despite the silence, Ramirez's immense popularity appears intact, so much so that the image-conscious Dodgers will reopen the Mannywood section in left field named in his honor.

Schmidt said that if Ramirez is booed on the road, it probably will be because he's the Dodgers' best player. Instead, Schmidt expects him to receive the kind of ovations Bonds routinely received at AT&T Park in San Francisco.

Schmidt added that Ramirez won't be scrutinized the way Bonds was as he chased Hank Aaron's home run record, and that will help.