FORT MYERS, Fla. — David Ortiz sees haters. And it motivates him.
Everybody can use a little motivation. Some folks do their best work in the name of love. Some do it out of fear. David Ortiz is driven by a notion that folks want him to fail. He reads something in the paper or hears a radio talk show host saying that he should keep quiet about his request for a contract extension, and he spins it into a regional repudiation of everything he has achieved in Boston.
Ortiz, a Boston sports legend perhaps on a par with Bobby Orr and Tom Brady, wants another year tacked on to his contract and this has resulted in some criticism. Wednesday he addressed this issue (and many others) in a 20-minute news conference on the day that all Sox players were due to report for spring training. Big Papi was more subdued than defiant, and seemed sincerely hurt by some of the reaction to his extension request.
“I’m a little afraid to talk about my contract,’’ he said at the start. “People have been killing me. A lot of people are tired about me talking about contract. But it ain’t me. You guys have questions and I give answers.
“What am I supposed to do? I know that a lot of you guys that come here and get to see what we do every day, some of you appreciate what we do. Some of you don’t . . .
“It’s a little out of hand. People sometimes want to make a big deal out of a guy like me asking for a one-year extension . . . My problem is not the Red Sox. My problem is not the fans. The fans know that I am more than proud of performing in front of them. It’s just a couple of haters out there. I can’t control that.’’
Awkward. I had a suspicion that he might be talking about me. More than that, actually. I’ve been critical of the big fella since he went public with his request and when Ortiz plopped himself down next to me for the start of Wednesday’s presser, he said, “Good to have my friends close and my enemy even closer.’’
“Why is it that I am doing so bad that people want me to retire?’’ he asked. “Can you answer that? . . . As long as I’ve been in this organization I don’t think I’ve disrespected no one. I think I’ve been honest. I think I’ve been legit. I’ve been one of the greatest that ever wore this uniform, too. Some people like to forget about it . . . I think it’s very disrespectful for someone out there to be saying that I’m greedy, that all I want to talk about is contract. When am I going to talk about contract, when I retire? Nobody gets a contract after you retire. A lot of them on those radio shows, they like to come out with their chest wide out and before you do that you need to know who you’re going to talk about.
“Haters, man, haters. People hate. That’s the world that we live in today. People hate. They are not comfortable that you are doing well. That’s it. That’s the way I see it. Because I do not disrespect no one since I’ve been here. I just go about my business, do what I got to do, win championships. That’s what every single person that is a fan of any organization wants from a player. That’s what I do. That part of it motivates me. Come in and kick [expletive]. I can’t wait for the season to start. I’m hungrier than ever . . . Prove people wrong my whole career.’’
When Ortiz was asked if he understood why the team might hesitate to extend his contract (owner John Henry was very cautious when asked about the Ortiz situation), the slugger answered, “Probably yes, probably not.’’ He pledged that he would never hold out.
“If it doesn’t get done, I’ve still got to come in and perform and do what I do and just live with the benefit of the doubt. I’m not going to shut it down. I have played under one-year deals. It’s not new to me . . . It’s a matter of respect.’’
The session was at once amazing, sad, and unbelievable. David Ortiz — a man who just hit .688 in the World Series, a man who got votes in the recent mayoral election, and someday no doubt will have a statue alongside Ted Williams and Yaz — is bothered by a little criticism.
He is totally human after all. When you cut him, he bleeds.
I visited Ortiz at his locker in the Sox clubhouse moments after the news conference. To tell him that nobody hates him.
We went back and forth for almost 10 minutes. Ortiz is correct when he says he has been nothing but respectful to everyone in his 12 years here. And that’s on top of winning three World Series and making himself available to multiple charities and all fans. Let’s not forget that he also became the official spokesperson for “Boston Strong.’’
He acknowledged he was hurt and frustrated by things he heard on talk shows. He said it’s motivated him to be better than ever. He said he was born for this. He feels like he has to prove himself. Again and again.
This is Boston baseball. There is emotion and disagreement and passion.
If it makes him a better hitter, Ortiz can knock himself out cursing the imaginary enemies. But nobody in Boston hates David Ortiz.