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03/12/08 6:27 PM ET

Manny finds wisdom with touch of gray

Slugger refines exercise, diet to help prolong his career

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The experts will tell us one of the keys to aging well is to continue learning along the way. Older and wiser, as the saying goes.

And, occasionally, we learn something about ourselves along the way, too.

"I'm older," said Manny Ramirez, who turns 36 on May 30 and has tinges of gray in his flowing braids and scruffs of whiskers attest to his observation.

"The thing is, be older and be smarter. The older you get, the smarter you get. We don't hope. That's just the way it is."

Sitting in front of his locker in the clubhouse of City of Palms Park before the Red Sox's workout on Wednesday morning, Ramirez offered his thoughts. As one of the longest-tenured members of the team -- and yes, one of the graybeards -- Ramirez has experienced much. And on this morning, he was uncharacteristically willing to share his thoughts with a clubhouse visitor.

Ramirez said he learned during his offseason workouts at the Athletes' Performance in Arizona -- where his workout partners were teammates Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia -- that he could work smarter without working harder, and get better results.

"What I was doing in the past years, it was working for me, but it was too much," Ramirez said. "Before, I was doing my workouts maybe four to five times a week. So now I was working three or four times a week. The older you get, the smarter you get."

Ramirez has new training and dieting habits to match his wiser disposition.

"We didn't do a lot of running, [or] a lot of cardio," said Ramirez, who noted that there was about 20 minutes of running. "But our workout was, like, two hours. The most important thing is doing the exercise right, because sometimes you do the exercises and you're doing the right exercises, you're just doing them wrong."

The Boston slugger also picked up some healthier eating habits in Arizona.

"I stay with the greens," said Ramirez. "Everything that's green is good. I feel lighter, faster."

Ramirez said he runs with teammate Alex Cora, but when Ramirez darts out in front, the Sox's utility infielder is wondering what's going on.

"I'm like, 'I'm not trying and I'm ahead of him,'" said Ramirez.

Ramirez said he has recently learned the power of meditation and positive thinking -- and that he likes to read. The headphones that had previously been virtually standard issue with his Red Sox uniform have been replaced this spring by a book, most recently "The Secret." The popular book promotes the concept of positive thinking, that "one's positive thoughts are powerful magnets that attract wealth, health, happiness."

Ramirez has become a disciple.

"I like it. I don't need to read a whole book to know what it's about. It's about this," he said, pointing to his head. "It's about what you want. If I come to you and tell you I want to take you to my house and cook you a steak, then you'll know. Because what it is is if you think positive stuff, all the positive stuff is going to come to you. Making things happen for yourself. Hey, that's what it's all about. If you said to yourself, 'Oh, I'm tired today, brother.' Then you're going to be tired all day. That's it. That's what it's all about."

Ramirez enters this season -- his 16th -- just 10 home runs shy of the vaunted 500-home run plateau. Averaging better than 32 long balls a season, he hit just 20 in 2007, his lowest home run output since he hit 17 in 1994, playing in just 91 games. Most of his offensive numbers were down last season compared to his career averages. His .296 batting average was 16 points lower than his .313 career mark. Slugging (.493 compared to .593) and on-base percentage (.388, .409) were also down.

Is the power of positive thinking tied into becoming a member of the 500 home run club for Ramirez? Possibly. In addition to staying healthy, a perennial goal, Ramirez said for the first time in his career he has set actual numerical goals for the season. But, for now, he's not revealing those.

"I'll let you know at the end of the year," Ramirez said. "I never set goals for myself in my career. But sometimes, it's good to set goals because it makes you focus and really know what you want. This year is the first time. I like it."

Ramirez's has a passion for reading, which he never did as a kid.

"That's all I do is read, read, read, read, read," Ramirez said. "I love it. I haven't finished [the book yet], but I don't need to. I love it. I already know what it's all about.

"Hanging out with my uncle and taking him everywhere with me, he always tell me, 'When you got time, when you're killing time, when you don't got nothing to do, go get a book and start reading.'"

Ramirez also credits his uncle with getting the Sox slugger into meditation and yoga before he goes to sleep.

"You got to reflect on what you did that day. I say, 'Let me think what I did today and think how I can do that better tomorrow.' That's something I learned. My uncle, he's [into] yoga. He does yoga and he meditates. Last year, I started doing it with him, but not a lot because at first it was hard. So in the offseason, I started doing it with him again, and reading. Sometimes, instead of wasting time listening to music, and this and that, I read."

Ramirez originally had trepidations about his new practices.

"All [my uncle's] brothers, they do it in New York," Ramirez said. "At first, I said, 'Oh, you guys are crazy.' It's hard because you're teaching yourself, because you got money now, now you got to know where you want to go."

Ramirez then turned his attention to life outside the game.

"All this stuff here -- baseball -- is just like a fantasy that you have," Ramirez said. "But you leave that when you leave the game. You start living your life after you retire, your real life.

"[I'll play] four or five years more. Yes, why not? I'm ready [this year]. My body feels good. I look good every year."

Ramirez reflected on the Sox's 2007 World Series season.

"Every time you win in Boston, it's special, because they go crazy. They love it and they're the best fans ever. When we go away, it's like we're playing at home. You got more fans on your side. It's great, they follow us everywhere."

While Ramirez is not contemplating an imminent retirement, he is making plans for that eventuality.

"No, oh no, not right now, not right now," he said. "My main goal when I retire is that I want to see my kids grow. I want to teach them about life. The game is good and everything, but ... "

Ramirez said his children were part of the reason he donated his custom-built 1967 Lincoln Continental to raise funds for the Franciscan Hospital for Children in Boston. An aficionado of classic cars, Ramirez said it was not difficult to let the car go.

"Not really, because I made [the car] for my dad and then he didn't like it that much because the car was so big," Ramirez said. "We drove it a couple of times, but then we said, 'Hey, if you don't like that car, let's donate that car to some good cause.' So we donated it to a hospital in Boston. And especially [because] it's a small hospital and the kids really need help.

"You're blessed. That's why every day you can't complain. You're making so much money and your kids are healthy. And you got everything you want."

Older and wiser. Leaner and lighter. Focused on goals. This could be an interesting season for Ramirez -- and American League pitchers.

Maureen Mullen is a contributor to MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.