Big Papi now Red Sox's elder statesman
After uncertain offseason, Ortiz returns to Boston in new role
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- For a few fleeting moments during the offseason, David Ortiz contemplated the unthinkable.
"I'm not going to lie to you," Ortiz said Wednesday, the first day of his 10th Spring Training with the Red Sox. "Yeah. At one point, I thought I was done here. This team was looking for a GM, a manager, other stuff, and it took them some time to put it together. After that, they went to the players. It was a little crazy at the time to do so, but they did, and I'm here."
After the Red Sox promoted Ben Cherington into the general manager's post and hired Bobby Valentine as manager, they got down to the business of making sure Big Papi returned for yet another season of mashing in the middle of Boston's batting order.
And not only is Ortiz back, but he is poised to become the longest-tenured player in the organization. Tim Wakefield retired last week and Jason Varitek could soon follow.
So the 36-year-old Ortiz, coming off his finest season in years, shifts to the role as one of the team's elder statesmen.
"I just got here and, yeah, it was kind of weird walking into the clubhouse and not seeing them," Ortiz said. "I talked to Wake the other day and we had a good conversation, and I think he's happy with what he did. I told him that I was very happy to be his teammate and that we were together because Wake is a first-class guy. They had a lot of good things to bring to the ballclub on a daily basis. I reached out to 'Tek, but I didn't get a hold of him, but I just wanted to know how he's doing."
Now that Ortiz has been around the longest, people might look to him to police things in the clubhouse a little more.
Along those lines, during his near 30-minute news conference on Wednesday morning, Ortiz was asked numerous times about the fried chicken and beer that pitchers consumed in the clubhouse while the rest of the team was trying, mostly unsuccessfully, to win games last September.
"Yeah, at one point it kind of caught your attention and you want to do something about it," Ortiz said.
Did he try to do something about it?
"Yeah, I think I did. I think I did," Ortiz said. "But I do things a different way. When I talk to any of the guys on the team, I don't want to sound like I'm their dad. I make sure that they understand that it's a friend, a brother, another player talking to them. That's why my communication with a lot of them is easier. I had a good relationship with everybody."
Ortiz admits being an authority figure isn't necessarily his thing.
"It's not my job to walk on anyone," Ortiz said. "I'm just an employee, just like anyone else. I'm not a babysitter or anything like that. I'm talking to another man just like me. There's a difference between being a team leader and being a babysitter."
The way Ortiz looks at it, the problem is going to fix itself on the heels of the epic collapse. He also thinks the addition of Valentine should help.
"Bobby, he has a lot of experience, he's been around for a long time. Everybody knows Bobby," said Ortiz. "I think it's going to be a good time for him to walk in so he can put his experience in play and teach us how to do the right thing. I think sometimes, like I say, things get out of hand and sometimes you get caught into thinking that you are doing the right thing but you [aren't]. You need to be reminded. That's what he [can do] for us."
Valentine said Ortiz made his presence felt in the Sox's clubhouse.
"They told me it would be loud and meringue when he showed up. The clubhouse seems to be full of David right now," Valentine said. "I expect him to have that smile as often as possible so he can light up our clubhouse and our dugout. I hope he can swing the bat the way he did last year. I don't know if he can hit left-handers equally well. I hope he can. [He can] provide some leadership, provide some experience and put some fear into the hearts of opposing pitchers."
Make no mistake about this, though. What happened at the end of 2011 is something Ortiz takes personally. He has a strong connection with Red Sox fans, given his time with the team and his role in the community.
"Based on what happened the last month of the season last year, it seemed like everything was going south," Ortiz said. "It didn't matter what we did, it seemed like everything was going to end up the way it did. Now, this year, we've changed things around. You learn from your mistakes. You learn from your struggles. So I'm pretty sure everybody is on same page now and things are going to be different."
Some things won't change, however, like the fun Ortiz likes to have with teammate Dustin Pedroia.
"Tell him he doesn't need to wear a beanie when it's 100 degrees out," quipped Pedroia at about 8:30 on Wednesday morning.
"In the offseason, I talked to Pedey pretty much every day, because at one point, I kind of missed him," said Ortiz. "When you're not listening to him talking all that [trash] ... you kind of get used to it for nine months, so for three months, it's kind of weird. I always texted him and called him, and he always has something to say. It's great to have Pedey around and get to the point where you can hear what he has to say. Pedey always gets me in the mood. He always gets me going one way or the other."
These days, the new faces in the Red Sox's clubhouse are immediately drawn to players like Ortiz and Pedroia. But Big Papi can remember 2003 just like it was yesterday, when he was the new guy in town trying to get a feel for what it was like to play in Boston.
"We have a lot of guys -- new guys coming in and the smart way to do things when you come to a new ballclub is to look around and see how everybody moves around," Ortiz said. "That's what I did when I first got here. I wanted to see why Nomar, Manny, Pedro -- why they were so good at what they do. I was just [soaking up] everything trying to figure out how to help this ballclub. That's what everybody normally does when they come to a new ballclub. I think we'll be fine. I think it will be different and hopefully it can work well during the season."
The one thing Ortiz has no interest in experiencing is a third straight October without baseball. For so many years, that had been his stage. But other teams and players have grabbed it of late.
"I think after the season last year, it was so depressing, because I was so ready to go to the playoffs and it didn't happen," said Ortiz.
As for accepting Boston's offer of arbitration and narrowly avoiding the hearing with a one-year, $14.575 million deal, Ortiz is at peace with it. Sure, he would have liked a multiyear deal. But he realizes there are bigger problems out there.
"I'm happy. I'm happy with my contract. I'm happy with being here. I take a lot of pride for the fans here," Ortiz said. "What motivates me to play the game, to do my thing out there, is when you walk out there and have all those people cheering for you. That has no price, to be honest with you. When I'm walking to the plate at Fenway and I hear all these fans, it puts me in the mood. I don't know how to explain it. It releases a lot of good things in myself. I'm used to that."