David Ortiz is now the face of baseball

David Ortiz conducted a chat with readers during his golf tournament.
David Ortiz Children’s Fund
David Ortiz conducted a chat with readers during his golf tournament.

CAP CANA, Dominican Republic — Derek Jeter played in only 17 games last season for an aging and overpriced Yankees team that finished tied for third place.

Miguel Cabrera, for all his extraordinary feats at the plate, avoids the public spotlight.

Young stars Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and Clayton Kershaw lack the validation that comes with winning a championship.


Had he stayed in New York, perhaps Robinson Cano had a chance. Instead he sought his fortune in Seattle, a franchise desperate for relevance.

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Baseball does not have a LeBron James or Peyton Manning, a player who is the face of the game.

Or is that player now David Ortiz?

At 38, Ortiz has ascended to the top of his sport with a combination of performance and personality that crosses lines of geography, fandom, age, and race. After leading the Red Sox to their third World Series championship in 10 years, Ortiz is much more than Boston’s Big Papi.

“Hall of Fame player and a Hall of Fame person,” said Adam Jones, Baltimore’s center fielder. “That’s the best way I can put it. You look around the game and David is the leader. He brings people together.”


Ortiz’s life has been a kaleidoscope of constantly shifting locales and commitments since he was named the Most Valuable Player of the World Series. From an appearance on “The Late Show With David Letterman” to an upcoming trip to the trend-setting Sundance Film Festival in Utah, Ortiz is capitalizing on his status knowing that his career is winding down.

Ortiz hosted a celebrity golf tournament here over the weekend. The diverse guest list included several Hall of Fame baseball players, comedian Chris Tucker, actress Eliza Dushku, and Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman.

At one point during a dinner on Saturday night, Ortiz was in an animated conversation with retired boxing champion Micky Ward and football legend Lawrence Taylor.

So large was the crowd of supporters who attended that organizers booked rooms in an adjoining hotel to handle the overflow.

“That’s David, he knows everybody,” said Tigers shortstop Jose Iglesias, a former Red Sox teammate. “People used to come into the clubhouse in Boston all the time just to meet him. If you meet somebody, the first thing they want to know is what David is like.”


A camera crew from MTV and MLB Productions shadowed Ortiz over the weekend. He is the co-executive producer for a new 30-episode show on MTV2 targeted to young men and will help convince other players to participate.

Ortiz will appear on the show, too, and on Friday filmed a skit. That Jeff Heckelman, who directs business public relations for Major League Baseball, was on hand is a sign of Ortiz’s importance to baseball.

Ortiz also will be working with country singer Miranda Lambert promoting a brand of pet food.

“It’s funny. You play the game for years and you want to accomplish things. But the stuff now? I never thought about that,” Ortiz said. “I’m trying to have fun with it.”

One surprise guest at the golf event was Alex Rodriguez. During the summer, an ESPN poll of 1,000 fans determined that Rodriguez was the face of baseball because of his infamy. The Yankees third baseman was — and still is — fighting a 211-game suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs.

That poll was taken before Ortiz led the Red Sox to a championship a year after they finished in last place in the American League East. He was 11 of 16 in the World Series, driving in six runs.

Ortiz is unquestionably the game’s best designated hitter, one of the few players still dangerous enough to merit daily at-bats at that spot. He hit .309 last season with 30 home runs and 103 RBIs.

“He had one of his best seasons when the Red Sox needed him the most,” Toronto outfielder Jose Bautista said. “You look at the Red Sox in the last 10 years and who has been there? It’s David. He’s one of the stars in the game and he has been for a while.”

In April, following the tragic bombings at the Boston Marathon, Ortiz was asked to address the crowd at Fenway Park. Speaking without notes, he finished by saying, “This is our [expletive] city!”

The profane rallying cry stuck in the city’s conscious, getting emblazoned on T-shirts and bumper stickers. No other player could have pulled that off.

“People say that to me every day,” Ortiz said. “I don’t know why I said it. I just felt it at that the time.”

Ortiz is signed through the end of the coming season and said Friday he wants a contract extension for 2015. His plan is to play until his body tells him to retire.

Ortiz is not sure what will follow then.

“I like to be involved. I want to see what I can do,” Ortiz said. “I think I’ll always be part of Boston. A lot of my life has been there. We’ve done great things over the years.”

As his career ventures down new avenues, Ortiz has found new happiness in his personal life. He has reconciled with his wife, Tiffany, after announcing in April that they were planning to divorce. The couple has three children.

“Things are good for me,” Ortiz said. “My wife, my kids, the team. You try to appreciate the good things. I’m still Big Papi.”

Peter Abraham can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.