One final season
Behind the scenes, David Ortiz was as candid and honest as ever as he prepared to walk away from baseball
Peter Abraham, the Globe’s Red Sox beat writer for the last seven years, saw David Ortiz almost every day from the start of spring training in February to this final weekend of the regular season.
Here, through his eyes, are some behind-the-scenes moments from Ortiz’s memorable final season with the Red Sox.
If you’re ever wondered what Ortiz is really like, we present an unvarnished look at all that is Big Papi.
March 22, Fort Myers, Fla.
The Red Sox are playing across the state, but Ortiz isn’t on the trip. As he sits in the mostly empty clubhouse at JetBlue Park, the topic turns to hitting.
“Let me tell you something,” says Ortiz, poking a reporter in the chest every few words to make his point. “Do you know how many good players never made it because they were with the wrong team?”
Ortiz relates a story that when he was with the Minnesota Twins, the coaches wanted him to shorten his swing and hit line drives over the shortstop’s head.
A power hitter in the minors, Ortiz chafed at playing small ball.
“I’m a big guy,” he says. “I hit for power. That [expletive] wasn’t for me.”
The Twins released Ortiz after the 2002 season and he signed with the Red Sox. In his first at-bat of spring training with Boston, Ortiz recalls, he came to the plate with a runner on second base and hit a ground ball to the right side, advancing the runner.
“In Minnesota, everybody would have given me a high-five in the dugout,” Ortiz says. “But [manager] Grady Little pulled me aside and said, ‘Next time drive in that run.’ ”
Ortiz turns away from the conversation and raises his arms over his head, as though in triumph.
“That’s when I knew I was home,” he says.
March 31, Fort Myers
Ortiz is a notoriously bad hitter in spring training, and he stays true to form for this last one, going 7 for 40. But his final swing produces a home run.
“That’s a sign,” he says.
A sign of what?
“I’m feeling good,” Ortiz says. “Or maybe I’m just ready to get out of here. I’ve never liked spring training.”
April 22, Houston
As the Red Sox arrive in Houston, the city is giving most of its attention to the NBA playoff series between the Rockets and Warriors.
Ortiz texted Golden State star Steph Curry and invited him to the game. The two became friendly shooting a commercial a few years ago and stayed in touch. Curry is a big Red Sox fan and even had his bachelor party at Fenway Park in 2011.
Curry, ever diplomatic, visited the Astros clubhouse before the game, then sat behind the plate to watch the game. He stopped down to the Red Sox clubhouse in the eighth inning and wanted to speak to Ortiz.
With the game going on, Ortiz had to be discreet. He gave the nod to David Price to come over and meet Curry.
Ortiz also knew that Jackie Bradley Jr. was a Curry fan. So when Bradley came off the field, Ortiz pulled him aside.
“I said, ‘Hey Junior, you might want to go see who’s in the clubhouse.’ He ran all the way there,” Ortiz says.
As the game continued, Ortiz posed for a photo with Curry, who was wearing a Sox cap and holding a bat.
“He’s my boy,” Ortiz says.
April 26, Atlanta
When Ortiz arrives at Turner Field, a large oil painting of his face is waiting at his locker. It’s a gift from an ardent fan and is quite good. In the painting, Ortiz is glowering. But he likes the portrait.
“That’s me going to the plate,” he says. “I’m ready to do some damage. That’s the look I have.”
Hanley Ramirez, sitting in the next locker, admires the painting.
“Find out who did that,” he says. “I need to get one of those.”
April 29, Boston
Ortiz beats the Yankees with a home run in the eighth inning, and afterward a large group of reporters is waiting to interview him in the clubhouse.
As Ortiz makes his way over, former teammate Kevin Millar bursts into the room and shows Ortiz something on his phone. Ortiz turns and hugs Millar.
The next day, it is learned that Ortiz promised a 6-year-old heart patient in Wyoming named Maverick Schutte that he would hit a home run for him. The boy, via Millar, sent Ortiz a cute-as-can-be video thanking him.
“Big Papi, you never let me down,” Maverick says.
Ortiz gets emotional discussing what happened.
“It was God putting his hands on a baseball player,” he says. “We all know it’s not that easy. But I have been able to get things done like that on a few different occasions. I think God is the one who takes over this stuff.”
May 6, New York
Ortiz comes to the plate in the ninth inning with the Red Sox down by a run against the Yankees and the bases loaded. Facing former teammate Andrew Miller, Ortiz works the count to 3-and-1, and the next pitch appears to miss the strike zone. The game will be tied.
But umpire Ron Kulpa calls the pitch a strike. Manager John Farrell gets ejected protesting the call. The next pitch is even worse, clearly low. But Kulpa calls Ortiz out on strikes. After initially going to the dugout, Ortiz comes running back on the field and is ejected.
It’s a five-star meltdown for Ortiz, and he has to be held back from going after Kulpa. The postgame scene is grim as Farrell and Ortiz discuss being ejected. Ortiz is clearly fuming but measures his words and says nothing inflammatory.
Ortiz exits the clubhouse trailed by an assortment of reporters representing Latin American media outlets in New York. In Spanish, they banter back and forth.
In the middle of an answer, Ortiz spots two New York City police officers standing off to the side watching the scene.
A switch flips. Ortiz walks over to the officers and shakes their hands.
“How are you guys doing?” he asks. “Love you guys. Thanks.”
The officers chat with Ortiz for a minute. He then returns to the reporters and they follow him out of the building, still asking him questions.
Ortiz was legitimately angry about how the game ended. But few athletes have a better understanding of who they are and what a few seconds can mean to somebody else.
June 1, Baltimore
Ortiz is angry, his voice filling the visiting clubhouse at Camden Yards. But his ire has nothing to do with baseball.
The story about Harambe, the gorilla who was shot by zookeepers in Cincinnati after a 3-year-old boy got into the animal’s exhibit, is something Ortiz almost can’t believe.
A father of three, Ortiz doesn’t understand how somebody could lose track of a small child at a zoo.
In colorful language, Ortiz suggests the mother was probably on her phone instead of paying attention to her son. He blames her for the unfortunate gorilla being shot.
“I mean, you’re at a [expletive] zoo,” he says. “Anything can happen at a zoo. You can’t let your kid jump in the damn cage.”
June 7, San Francisco
It takes a lot to impress Ortiz. Seeing Willie McCovey on the field certainly did.
McCovey is 78 and uses a wheelchair because of knees worn down by playing 22 seasons in the majors. But the Hall of Famer took part in a pregame ceremony paying tribute to Ortiz.
“A player like that, what an honor,” Ortiz says. “That was special.”
As Ortiz spoke, several reporters who regularly cover the Giants were close by. Ortiz asked them questions about how often McCovey attends games and how his health is. His curiosity is genuine and the conversation lasts for 10 minutes.
“My father used to tell me what a great player he was,” Ortiz says. “I wish I could have talked to him all night. Imagine what you could learn.”
June 10, Minneapolis
It’s the final time Ortiz plays in Minnesota, and the emotions are stronger than he expected.
Ortiz played for the Twins from 1997-02 before being unceremoniously released as a 26-year-old. Ortiz became “Big Papi” in Boston, but Minnesota will forever be where he got his start.
“I used to walk around the city and nobody knew who I was,” Ortiz says. “Baseball wasn’t a big deal. But we made the playoffs [in 2002] and I thought, ‘Everything will change now.’ Then they let me go.”
The Twins, who have long regretted their mistake, feted Ortiz with a surprisingly cheerful tone, bringing back a group of former teammates to salute him.
Their gift to him was a 64-ounce jar of peanut butter. Yes, peanut butter.
As a young player, Ortiz was a clubhouse prankster, and teammate Corey Koskie paid him back one day by filling his underwear with peanut butter.
As Torii Hunter tells the story, Ortiz was fully dressed before he realized what had happened.
“Those days were fun,” says Ortiz. “We were just kids.”
Hunter, who retired last season, had been looking forward to seeing Ortiz. He traveled in for the game along with Koskie, LaTroy Hawkins, and former Twins manager Ron Gardenhire.
“We had some great times with him,” Hunter says. “To see what he’s become, it makes us smile. He was just Davey then.”
June 17, Boston
The Red Sox lose, 8-4, against the Seattle Mariners. But in the fourth inning, Ortiz belted a home run to center field. It was the 521st of his career, tying him with Hall of Famers Willie McCovey, Frank Thomas, and Ted Williams for 19th place all-time.
Ortiz left Fenway Park with the ball he hit and the bat he used, both wrapped carefully in long white stockings, which are known as “sanitaries” in the clubhouse. Ortiz was humbled to be included in any conversation that included Williams.
“It means a lot,” he says. “All you guys know how great Mr. Ted Williams was.
“It’s wonderful talking about some of the greatest hitters in the game and hearing your name mentioned with them.”
Ortiz waited until the clubhouse was almost empty of teammates before going back to his locker and meeting with reporters. He spoke in low tones. Discussing a personal accomplishment after a loss made him uncomfortable.
“If it were up to me, I would have just gone home,” Ortiz says the next day. “But Ted Williams, you have to pay respect to him.”
Ortiz’s father, Enrique, is a big baseball fan and told his son stories about the great hitters in baseball history. Even before he joined the Red Sox, Ortiz knew plenty about Williams and met him briefly at Fenway Park when he was with the Twins.
“It was just to say hello,” he recalls. “I could have talked about hitting with him for a long time.”
Throughout the season, Ortiz will surpass several records held by Williams. Each time, he refers to him as “Mr. Williams” out of respect.
June 28, St. Petersburg, Fla.
As Ortiz takes batting practice before the game at Tropicana Field, he hits a ball to the back wall of the stadium in right field.
After admiring the shot, Ortiz starts talking about the famous red seat in the bleachers at Fenway Park.
According to legend, Ted Williams hit a home run on June 9, 1946, that landed in the bleachers and struck the straw hat of a fan named Joseph Boucher. The ball was measured at 502 feet from the plate, and a red seat was placed among the section of green to commemorate it.
Ortiz has never believed that anybody — even the great Williams — could hit a ball that far.
“Show me the video,” Ortiz says. “They found video of Babe Ruth calling his shot [in the 1932 World Series]. How come there is no video of that? I don’t believe it.”
Ortiz took batting practice at Fenway with an aluminum bat a few years ago and tried to reach the red seat, to no avail. With all due respect to Williams, he doesn’t believe a ball was hit that far.
“If I did that, I’d get drug-tested before I got around the bases. There’s nobody who could hit a ball that far. I’ve tried for years.” David Ortiz, on trying to reach Fenway’s “red seat”
July 11, San Diego
It’s the day before the All-Star Game and the players gather in a cavernous hotel ballroom for interviews. Ortiz’s table is in the front of the room and there are dozens of journalists crowded around him for the entire 45-minute session.
Most of the players are dressed casually. But Ortiz is wearing sunglasses, a custom-made black sport coat, red pants, and Christian Louboutin loafers that retail for $1,095.
“Have to look good,” he says. “This is my last All-Star Game.”
Most of the questions are about whether Ortiz intends to retire after the season. By now he is getting used to it and patiently explains several times that, yes, he really is.
“Take a good look. I’ll be watching this game on TV next year,” he says with a laugh that carries across the room.
July 12, San Diego
Ortiz gets up to bat twice in the All-Star Game, and it’s anticlimactic. He grounds out to first base and draws a walks. Once he gets to first base, American League manager Ned Yost sends in a pinch runner and Ortiz walks off the field to a standing ovation from the crowd at Petco Park.
The American League players emerge from the dugout to greet him.
“It’s all for Papi,” says Red Sox teammate Xander Bogaerts. “I made sure I went over there and gave him a big hug. He really deserves all of this. He’s had a great career.”
Before the game, Ortiz addressed the team at the request of Major League Baseball. Speaking without notes for about five minutes, Ortiz tells the players to leave the sport better than they found it and to continue to work hard.
“It’s extremely hard to get here,” he says. “You don’t get to the All-Star Game just because you have a good name. That’s not how it works. You look at the stats on the board; everybody has pretty good numbers.
“You have to look at your career. It’s a wonderful career but it takes a lot of work.”
July 15, New York
As Ortiz prepares for a game against the Yankees, word comes out that MLB is investigating him. The charge? Tampering.
At the All-Star Game, Ortiz praised Toronto designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion, saying the Red Sox should sign him next season. He also had kind words for Miami ace Jose Fernandez, jokingly saying the Sox should trade for him.
In Toronto, columnist Jeff Blair gets a bit histrionic and accuses Ortiz of “brazen, open lobbying.”
In years past, Ortiz might have fired back. Instead, he’s bemused.
“Tampering? I don’t write no paycheck,” Ortiz says. “I can say whatever I want. I’m not a GM or a team owner or whatever. If I say tomorrow that I want to play with LeBron James, am I tampering, too?”
A New York tabloid reporter tries to bait Ortiz into saying something inflammatory. No deal.
“It’s just funny,” he says. “I’ve been saying things like that for years about players. I like everybody.”
July 18, Boston
The Red Sox have a day off, but Ortiz hosts an event at the Boston Park Plaza to benefit his charitable foundation, the David Ortiz Children’s Fund.
Several hundred people attend the formal dinner and Ortiz, not surprisingly, is among the last to arrive. Wearing sunglasses and a black jacket with broad white accents on the sleeves, he works the crowd like a politician, shaking hands and posing for photos.
Patriots owner Bob Kraft sits with Ortiz during the dinner and surprises the crowd by announcing a $100,000 donation. When Ortiz gets up, he speaks without notes for eight minutes.
In an almost reserved tone, Ortiz says the idea of saving the life of a sick child means more to him than any World Series game and that it’s the duty of every professional athlete to give something back to the community they come from.
But there are a few laughs — and casual expletives — along the way.
“There is nothing I like more than whooping the Yankees’ asses,” he says.
A pop singer from the Dominican Republic, Kat DeLuna, comes out to entertain the crowd. But more people flock to Ortiz.
July 21, Boston
Batting practice is an almost daily ritual of the game and it usually passes with a modicum of excitement. But this day is different.
Ortiz actually damages the Pesky Pole, the foul pole in right field named after Red Sox legend Johnny Pesky. Ortiz hits a ball so hard that it wedges into the metallic screen of the pole and stays there.
Players often hit the foul pole during batting practice — it’s only 302 feet from home plate — but nobody can remember a ball hit so well that it stuck.
“Pretty amazing,” says assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez, looking up at the ball. “But that’s David.”
Fans quickly gather around to take photographs of Ortiz’s latest feat.
But as the Twins take batting practice, a member of the grounds crew props a ladder against the pole, climbs up, and pokes the ball loose. Because the ball would be in play during the game, the umpires want it down. The Sox also are worried that some enterprising fan would climb up the pole to get it.
When the ball pops out, a fan waiting below catches it and dashes away.
“I wasn’t expecting it, but it happened,” Ortiz says after the game. “I was impressed. I’ve been watching balls hit that thing for years. Never any of them get stuck in there.”
Manager John Farrell is amazed.
“We’re watching history right in front of us nightly,” he says.
During the game, Ortiz hits a home run in the eighth inning. That one counts.
July 22, Boston
It’s not always flowers. Down, 2-1, in the ninth inning against Minnesota, the Sox load the bases with no outs in the ninth inning and have Ortiz at the plate. Everything is set up.
Then everything goes horribly wrong. Ortiz grounds into a double play, the Twins getting the first out at the plate. Hanley Ramirez then lines to right field and the Sox lose.
Ortiz ran as hard as he could to first base on his sore feet, then bent over at the waist, hands on knees. His pain, physical and otherwise, was evident.
When reporters are allowed into the clubhouse after the game, Ortiz is waiting.
“Always looking for something to happen,” Ortiz says matter-of-factly. “It just doesn’t work out all the time.”
July 24, Boston
Ortiz is out of the lineup this day, getting a rest. But he still has a few things to take care of.
An old friend, former Red Sox player Arquimedez Pozo, is at the game escorting a youth team he coaches in the Dominican Republic. The kids are playing in a tournament in Providence but Ortiz arranged a side trip to Fenway, complete with tickets for the game.
The players, decked out in their blue-and-white uniforms, are on the field before the game watching the Sox’ starting pitchers take batting practice when Ortiz pops out of the dugout wearing sweatpants and a T-shirt.
He tells the group to take a seat in the stands in the shade. They gather in Section 15 and Ortiz speaks to them for about 15 minutes while signing autographs and posing for photos.
Ortiz says later that he told the teenagers about his own experiences and encouraged them to work hard in school and on the field.
When he finishes up, the kids chant “Papi! Papi!” and applaud him.
As some early-arriving fans look on in disbelief, Ortiz makes his way back down the stands and returns to the clubhouse.
Just another day of being Big Papi.
Aug. 3, Seattle
The Mariners give Ortiz a framed copy of the contract he signed with them in 1992. The organization later traded him to Minnesota.
The Seattle players, represented by Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, and Felix Hernandez, also present Ortiz with a Hublot watch. Cano, who considers Ortiz something of a big brother, came up with the idea.
Ortiz, a connoisseur of fine timepieces, is impressed. The watch, he says later, was worth more than the one he wore to the game. That means it was really expensive. No, more than that.
Unlike other gifts he has received, Ortiz does not hand the watch off to a team official. He carefully packs it into his travel bag.
“That’s only going with me,” he says.
Aug. 7, Los Angeles
In full uniform, Ortiz visits the press box about 70 minutes before first pitch to pay his respects to Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully. Like Ortiz, Scully will retire after the season.
Ortiz wanted to meet Scully and thank him for narrating a tribute video the Dodgers played on Friday.
“It was an honor to say goodbye to him. A legend,” Ortiz says. “He’s a super-nice person. I definitely wanted to do that.”
Scully seems almost taken aback to see Ortiz come into the broadcast booth high above home plate. But, as always, the legendary announcer finds the right words.
“I must tell you this, I admire the way you play,” Scully says. “But I have respected with great admiration the human being that you are. I just want you to know how much I care for you.”
Ortiz tells Scully that the Dodgers were the first team to scout him when he was 16 but he signed with the Mariners.
“It’s my honor to be here,” Ortiz says.
After the two embrace, Scully leaves Ortiz with a few words.
“God bless,” he says. “He has, and I pray that he will continue to do just that.”
“Thank you,” Ortiz says.
“It’s from the heart,” Scully says.
A day later, Ortiz is still shaking his head about how gracious Scully was to him.
“An unbelievable man,” he says. “I was so honored to hear what he said.”
Aug. 10, Boston
The first David Ortiz controversy of the year happens, and David Ortiz has nothing to do with it.
The Sox cancel an Ortiz bobblehead giveaway five hours before their game against the Yankees because the figurines are deemed inaccurate and racially offensive by team president Sam Kennedy
The bobblehead depicted Ortiz holding a microphone, a tribute to the emotional speech he made at Fenway Park five days after the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013.
Kennedy saw the bobblehead for the first time earlier in the day and decided to cancel the promotion. The figure looks like Al Jolson in blackface.
“It was an inaccurate portrayal of David,” says Kennedy. “It doesn’t really look like David. No. 2, I personally thought it seemed to be an offensive portrayal of him and the facial features were racially insensitive.
“If I was feeling this way, certainly other people would. So we pulled the plug.”
The bobbleheads are shipped back to the manufacturer, which promises to make a new one. All ticketed fans for the game are instead handed cards with instructions on how to get a new one once they’re ready.
Before the game, Ortiz claims he was unaware of the situation.
“That’s supposed to be me?” he says after looking at a photo of the bobblehead. A string of unprintable words followed.
Aug. 10-11, Boston
For maybe 30 minutes, until the X-rays came back, the fear was that Ortiz’s career was over.
Facing Dellin Betances of the Yankees, Ortiz fouls a 99-m.p.h. fastball off his right shin. He falls to one knee, his face a mask of pain. Ortiz tries to get up but has to be helped off the field, unable to put any weight on his leg.
Fenway Park falls silent, a loss against the Yankees shoved aside because of concern about Ortiz.
After a bit, word came to the clubhouse that there was no fracture. The X-rays were negative.
“My heart sunk a little bit when I saw it,” says Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski. “But fortunately I just saw him back there and he’s doing much better.”
Ortiz returns to the lineup the next day. Before the game, a reporter asks how he feels.
Ortiz mutters a few expletives, then smiles.
“We’ve got to grind it out there,” he says. “We have to keep on fighting.”
Ortiz lines a double to right field in his first at-bat. The crowd loves it, but the Sox lose again.
After the game, he sits at his locker with a large ice bag wrapped around his leg. Days like this are why he is retiring.
Aug. 15, Cleveland
The Sox win, 3-2, thanks in part to Ortiz belting a two-run homer. Afterward he sits in the clubhouse enjoying a postgame meal of lasagna and a can of Coke.
“This is a good Coke,” he says to rookie infielder Marco Hernandez. “I don’t usually drink too much soda, but this is good.”
A bystander feels compelled to ask: Why is that particular can so good?
“I don’t know, it just tastes good,” Ortiz says. “Maybe it’s because we won.”
A can of cold soda after a game; life’s little pleasures.
Aug. 20, Detroit
For players of Latin American descent, Ortiz is far more than a professional acquaintance. He is somebody they turn to for advice when it comes to matters on the field and off. He knows secrets nobody else is entrusted with.
Stars like Robinson Cano, Edwin Encarnacion, and Manny Machado look at Ortiz like a big brother.
So it was particularly meaningful for Ortiz when the Tiger players from Venezuela presented him with a unique gift before the game. It is a Venezuelan cuatro, a four-string ukulele-type instrument.
The late Pablo Canela, a noted musician and craftsman from Venezuela, originally made the cuatro. The Tigers players, led by Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez, had it customized with a painting of Ortiz.
Ortiz does not play an instrument (“Not yet,” he says) but was touched by the gesture.
“Isn’t this beautiful?” he says. “Those two guys, they’re like my family.”
Ortiz usually hands off any gifts he receives and they’re packed away until the team returns to Fenway Park. But this one he keeps in his locker.
“I’m not letting it out of my sight,” he says.
Later that day, Ortiz overhears two reporters talking about the game against Kansas City on Aug. 28 being moved to an 8:05 p.m. start to accommodate ESPN.
“That’s true?” Ortiz says.
“Yes, they just announced it,” says Jonny Miller, a longtime reporter from WBZ Radio.
Ortiz, who had plans that night, unleashes a string of invective that would make George Carlin blush.
“I’m sorry about that,” Miller says.
“Not your [bleeping] fault,” Ortiz says.
Aug. 30, Boston
The second day of the annual Jimmy Fund Radio Telethon has Ortiz being pulled in different directions. Fenway Park is full of people wanting just a minute of his time. But there aren’t enough minutes.
Ortiz does make sure to get to the dugout during batting practice to see some of the Jimmy Fund patients who requested to meet him.
Each of the children gets an autograph, a photo, and a few seconds of conversation. Some of the kids are speechless, and one little boy just wants to hug his hero.
Ortiz, who has three children, says meeting sick children can be heartbreaking.
“I think of my own kids, you know?” he says. “You say thanks be to God they’re OK. Hopefully I give them a chance to smile. Sometimes that’s the best thing you can do.”
Sept. 6, San Diego
Ortiz, like many professional athletes, keeps his political opinions private. But in an interview with USA Today, he opens up and it makes news.
Ortiz passionately spoke out against Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and his comments about Latinos.
Trump has accused Mexico of sending criminals to the United States and has promised to build a wall separating the countries. Many Latino players have complained privately about Trump but Ortiz goes on the record.
“When you speak like that about us, it’s a slap in the face,” Ortiz says to reporter Jorge L. Ortiz, who is not related to him. “I walk around sometimes, and I see Mexican people trying to earn a living in an honest way. And to hear somebody make those kinds of comments, it hits you. I think as Latin people we deserve better.
“Things have gotten much better in that regard. . . . As Latin people we deserve respect, no matter where you’re from. And especially our Mexican brothers, who come here willing to do all the dirty work.”
Ortiz, a native of the Dominican Republic, became a US citizen in 2008. He has often said that was a proud day in his life.
“Latin people here in the United States are the sparkplug of the country’s economy,” he says. “Whoever opposes that is going to lose. And not just Latin people, but [all] immigrants. I’m talking about people who come from Africa, from Asia, other places.
“All those people come here with one goal, to realize the American dream, and you have to include them in our group.”
A day later, Ortiz turned down questions from reporters asking for further comments. His foray into politics lasts one day.
Sept. 11, Toronto
It’s 9:50 a.m. and the narrow visitors clubhouse at the Rogers Centre is almost empty. Most of the players have taken the second bus from the hotel.
Ortiz is sitting at a table talking quietly to teammate Christian Vazquez when a nearby television shows highlights of the Dodgers game from the night before.
Rich Hill, a former Red Sox teammate, had a perfect game through seven innings before manager Dave Roberts, another former teammate, took him out.
“Look how mad he is,” Ortiz says. “I don’t blame him. A perfect game. Poor guy. I’ve never seen him that pissed before.”
Ortiz says that Hill’s curveball might be the best in the game right now.
“Unbelievable,” he says. “When he came to play for us, I was so happy because I didn’t have to face him.”
As Ortiz’s voice gets louder, Bob Tewksbury walks by. Now 55, Tewksbury spent 13 years in the majors and played with Ortiz in Minnesota from 1997-98. He is now a sports psychologist who travels regularly with the Sox.
“That old [expletive] right there, he had a good curveball,” Ortiz says, pointing at Tewksbury. “He was in the majors for 30 years because of that curveball.”
Ortiz then starts pantomiming a hitter swinging at a curveball.
“Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, he’d strike your ass out,” Ortiz says.
“I didn’t play 30 years,” he says. “It feels like I did.”
“But you had a good curveball,” Ortiz says.
“I did,” Tewksbury says.
“I know my [expletive],” Ortiz says.
Farrell, listening from down the hall, smiles. It’s always a good sign when your oldest player is fired up three hours before the game.
It sure was. Ortiz hits a three-run homer in the sixth inning to give the Sox a 10-8 lead in a wild game they go on to win, 11-8.
Sept. 22, Baltimore
Orioles manager Buck Showalter likes to jab the Red Sox whenever he gets a chance. So it’s no surprise when the team’s pregame ceremony to “honor” Ortiz is a bit awkward.
Ortiz is called onto the field and has to stand there for several minutes with a team announcer while a video is shown of him smashing a dugout phone in Baltimore during a game in 2013.
At one point, Ortiz turns away from the scoreboard and seems almost ready to walk away. Then a friend, Baltimore center fielder Adam Jones, comes out of the dugout and presents Ortiz with the phone on a plaque.
There are some smiles and Ortiz finally is allowed off the field.
Ortiz is asked after the game how he liked the ceremony.
“It was all right,” Ortiz says with a sour expression.
Sept. 25, St. Petersburg, Fla.
The tragic news that Miami pitcher Jose Fernandez died in a late-night boating accident hits the Red Sox clubhouse hard.
The Sox have a number of players who live in the Miami area and knew Fernandez. Hanley Ramirez is particularly upset and sits at his locker with the hood of his sweatshirt pulled up.
Ortiz, who often identifies with younger players more than older ones, is in tears before the game when a moment of silence is held.
Fernandez had teased Ortiz at the All-Star Game, saying he would throw him a fastball down the middle. But when the 24-year-old came in the game, he went after Ortiz and eventually walked him.
“Oh, man, I couldn’t stop thinking about things the whole game,” Ortiz says. “Not something you’re going to forget about. It’s not an easy thing. It makes you think about a lot of things, a lot of things go through your head.”
Ortiz refers to Fernandez as a “special case” because of his effusive personality. Several times he expresses his sympathy for the player’s family.
“This is just a hard day,” he says before leaving the clubhouse for the team bus and a flight to New York.
Sept. 28, New York
As the Red Sox take the field for the bottom of the ninth inning, the scoreboard shows they have clinched the American League East by virtue of Baltimore beating Toronto.
The Sox, up, 3-0, lose the game as Craig Kimbrel and Joe Kelly allow five runs in the ninth. But the Sox party in the clubhouse all the same. The champagne and beer flow.
Before wading into the frenzy, Ortiz stops to talks to reporters.
“I’m going to try to enjoy it the most I can,” he says. “It was crazy. I wanted to celebrate on that field so bad. But it is what it is.”
With that, Ortiz darts away.
“Let me pop!” he says. “Let me pop a little bit!”
Television cameras showing the celebration live catch Ortiz shouting a few choice words. Fourteen years in Boston and they haven’t learned that Ortiz lives life unedited.
Sept. 29, New York
In February, Ortiz said he would love it if Yankee fans gave him a standing ovation in New York.
He got it.
When Ortiz came to the plate in the second inning, the crowd stood and cheered a player who tormented them for so many years.
Hours later, while sitting in the clubhouse with his son, D’Angelo, Ortiz was still smiling,
“Impressive, man,” he says. “There was no booing out there. It seems like everyone was happy that I’m leaving.”
Ortiz was chuckling, but it was obvious he was touched. New York City is a favorite spot of his, and to get cheered at least once was priceless.
Before he left Yankee Stadium, Ortiz took the nameplate above his locker as a souvenir and hugged all of the clubhouse attendants, slipping them one final tip.
A golf cart was ready in the concourse to take him to the team bus. The Red Sox had three more games at Fenway Park before starting the playoffs.
“More work to do,” Ortiz says. “This is what everybody wanted.”