Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, 37, talks about what it takes to stay in the game late in his career.
Q. What’s the primary challenge of playing as an older athlete?
A. Your body giving up on you. When you’re younger, in your 20s, it’s easier to do things, even in your early 30s. But when you start hitting mid-30s and up, that’s when it’s tough. That’s the age where you don’t see that many athletes performing at the highest level, especially superstars. We want to keep up with the game. And the only solution for your body giving up on you is you’ve got to stay consistent with your workouts.
Athletes like me, Kevin Garnett, Tom Brady, Kobe Bryant, they always expect to do what they used to. At our age, your body is already giving up when you want to keep up with what you want to do because people expect you to do that. So, it’s either giving up and reducing your performance level or training until you throw up so that you can keep up with your performance. It’s one or the other.
Q. In what ways does your body respond differently, feel differently after games or hard workouts?
A. When I get up in the morning, sometimes it feels like I was fighting the whole night. But when I take a hot shower, have breakfast, start moving around, then I start feeling better. And your mind is pretty much programmed for that.
Q.Who are you fighting the whole night?
A. Probably [Mike] Tyson.
Q.How have you tried to keep your body, your physical fitness at the same level, especially after 35?
A. In my case, when I first got here to the Red Sox, I was 26, 27, there was a guy that I started training with. I learned how to start training my body from the inside to the outside. Most of us, we train the big muscles and forget about the little muscles. So, I started training the small muscles, the little muscles that we don’t really see, but if you turn or tear any of them, you go on the DL for a long period of time. I’m talking about medicine ball, stretching, a lot of core work.
Another thing is that, as you get older, your body doesn’t want to keep up with the routine. Your mind starts working with you. Like with me, I got my body used to coming to the field every day and going to the gym. I’m talking about every day. My mind tells me if I don’t go and do my lifting, you’re not going be able to keep up with your baseball. So, I’ve been trying to keep up with that. Now I go every other day to the gym.
Q.What do you do for a workout? How long do you work out?
A. I do cardio. I lift upper body, lower body. Sometimes I do a little bit of everything. During the season, you’re not going to lift longer than an hour. But in the offseason, you go there 2, 2½ hours and get everything done the way you’re supposed to, which is when the throwing up thing comes up because you know you’ve got to get prepared for the season.
Q.Are you a healthy eater?
A. I try to be. I have gotten a lot better. At one point, I kind of got into the ‘I’m young, I’m not worried about anything.’ Then, once you hit your 30s and you see that your body is kind of slowing down, you start thinking, ‘Man, if I want to keep on playing, I’ve got to do something.’ So, a couple years ago, I got into this thing where I lost 30 pounds, then I started eating better. Then, I got used to it. Less fried. Less sweet.
Q.Did you go vegan or vegetarian or try anything like that?
A. No, no, no. I like flavor. But I stopped a lot of things that I know had a lot to do with not losing weight, like the drinking, eating sweet stuff, eating fried things. Sugar is pretty bad. Everything has sugar pretty much, even if it doesn’t taste sweet.
Q.Do you think perceptions about older athletes are changing? Do you think GMs/teams will start seeing more value in players 35 and older?
A. That’s not going to happen with every athlete, to be honest with you. But the history behind athletes like Tom Brady, Kevin Garnett, that they’ve built up, there’s no way out for teams and organizations to just let this guy go. They see how we hold ourselves together through the years, how concerned we are about performing, how we take care of ourselves, how we go about the business. They see our mentality doesn’t change as we get older. You put all the things together. Not every athlete can keep up with that. That’s when you separate those athletes from average athletes. That’s the reason why we continue playing, and having a job, because of how we separate. It’s something that has a lot to do with what we do from Day 1 for that to be there as we get older.
Q.Should teams invest more into learning how athletes age?
A. I can tell you one thing: Every sport is not for older people. If you want to invest in athletes in any sport, it’s got to be young athletes. I’m not going to lie to you. I’m not going to say something, act like a fool. Because to be honest with you, as you get older, you have a hard time, getting yourself together, to prepare.
Q.Did you ever expect you’d be playing at this age?
A. To be honest, no. But the way I have worked through the years, yes. I know I was going to play as long as I wanted.
But when I was young, I used to play the game like I was 120 pounds. I was diving headfirst, all over the place, doing all kinds of crazy stuff. The organization pulled me aside at one point and they were, like, ‘No more diving headfirst. You’re not a little guy. It’s going to get to the point where it’s not going to be good for you and for us, either, because we’re going to lose you.’
Q.Is this it, your last contract, or do you think you could keep playing longer?
A. Well, I’m going to see. After these two years, it’s going to be 17-plus, almost 18 years for me. Which is something in any sport, anything that you do, is a long career. I can tell you that I’ve been blessed that I keep on playing at this age.
But you have guys older performing. What worked for me is that I came to the big leagues pretty young. I was about to turn 21 when I came to the big leagues. So that went in my favor. On the other hand, your body gets banged up.Shira Springer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.