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10/16/08 5:53 PM EST

Dodgers clear out lockers, look ahead

With 2008 over, players can digest season and aim higher in '09

LOS ANGELES -- Manny Ramirez cleaned out his locker at Dodger Stadium Thursday afternoon possibly for the last time, leaving behind a fortune cookie on the nameplate above his locker reading, "Don't look back, Always look ahead."

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Then Ramirez headed toward the elevator with a throng of media chasing after him and did just that.

The impending free agent stood at the elevator waiting to leave with a smile on his face, refusing to answer any questions except to say, "I'll send you guys a Christmas card," to a circus of reporters hanging on his every word.

Whether that was his farewell to the Los Angeles media corps he has treated so well since being acquired by the Dodgers on July 31 remains to be seen, but clearly Ramirez has already entered free agent mode one day into the offseason.

Meanwhile, in the clubhouse, Nomar Garciaparra packed up his things and said he felt the same way he did when he left the ballpark Wednesday night because he did not sleep much with the thoughts of the season running through his head. The most frustrating part about the loss for the infielder is that he felt the Dodgers had the type of team that could advance further, but just didn't do it.

Garciaparra said he has not pondered his impending free agency at all yet because the season just ended.

"I'd be doing the season a disservice if I'm thinking about the future already," Garciaparra said. "I soak everything in because I never take any season for granted. What I'm going to do right now is pack and heal and worry about that some other time. I'm still digesting the loss."

Andre Ethier said he was excited to return home to Chandler, Ariz., to spend time with his wife and month-old baby as well as other family and friends he has been away from during the season.

"It's all said and done, we can't change anything now," Ethier said. "Seven and a half months I've been away from home, so I think in your case you might think the same.

"People don't realize that, you miss a half a year of your family's life every time you play a baseball season, so it's good to go back home and see some friends and family and get away from the season and get that passion back."

Russell Martin said Wednesday night he developed a better understanding of his body and the positive effects of taking a day off when he can.

The catcher added that the most encouraging part of the season comes from how well the Dodgers pitched this year. He cited the development of the club's young offensive core involving players such as himself, Ethier, Matt Kemp, James Loney and Blake DeWitt as important as well.

"We've got a good core group here with the younger guys and the pitchers and everybody put together," Martin said. "It felt like everybody got better as the year progressed, and that's what I'm going to take back from this year is just how much everybody got better.

"Matt Kemp, for instance, we got on him about his baserunning in 2006, and he was tremendous this year running the bases. James is just getting better every year defensively, more polished at the plate. Blake DeWitt came on strong his rookie year, but just the younger guys, I don't know if they established themselves, but they played like they belonged."

Kemp, an immensely talented 24-year-old who played his first full Major League season this year, said he learned a lot this season, such as how to be patient and not get out of his game plan.

Kemp and the rest of the Dodgers' core now have eight playoff games to draw upon as they aim to mix their raw talent with a bit of experience in 2009 and beyond.

"Hopefully I'll take what I did in the playoffs into next year to make myself better, and hopefully we get further than this year," Kemp said. "We wanted to get further, we knew we could have gone further. It just didn't go our way."

Michael Schwartz is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.