David Ortiz signed his first contract to play professional baseball in 1992. He had turned 17 just a few days earlier.
The alternative was selling car parts with his father, so Ortiz was willing to go wherever the game would take him. That the journey would last 24 years and change the course of so many lives never occurred to him.
“I was just a kid who wanted to play,” Ortiz said. “Now I meet people and they say, ‘Thank you, Papi.’ Everything that happened, it was a blessing even if I didn’t know it at the time.”
Now it’s time for something else. Ortiz announced in November that the coming season would be his last with the Red Sox. No matter what happens in the months ahead, Ortiz will be remembered as one of Boston’s most influential athletes. From championships to controversies, few made a greater mark on the city.
Ortiz recently took time to sit down and answer some questions about his decision, his memories, and what comes next.
- Q. What will you be doing at this time next year?
- A. “Relaxing. Just relaxing. At this time next year, I’ll be having fun. I’ll still have my house in Boston but I won’t be there because it’ll be freezing. I’ll probably be in Miami somewhere. I’m building a house there. I’m going to get off baseball for a bit and see how that works. I’ll take some time for myself.”
- Q. Will you get back into baseball at some point?
- A. “Probably, yes. I’d like to go back and do some television. I also want to be around the Red Sox and help them out. I want to help out the game, the players, and this organization. I think I can add something. I have that experience and you can’t waste that. I know what it’s like to be challenged mentally and I can help the players who come after me take things to the next level.”
- Q. What player has been the biggest influence on your career?
- A. “Oh, it was Pedro [Martinez]. He still has influence on me. But not just him. Manny [Ramirez] helped me out a lot. So did Tek [Jason Varitek] and the guys I came up with in Minnesota: Torii Hunter, Eddie Guardado, Matt Lawton. Carlos Delgado was big for me. A lot of guys influenced me in my career. I tried to pick up things from everybody.
“I tell people that our little guy [Dustin Pedroia] helped me and they say, ‘Oh, but he’s younger than you.’ But we’ve been playing together for a long time and I learned so much from him. We’ve taught each other. You never stop learning in this game.”
- Q. What was the happiest moment of your career?
- A. “I would say winning that first World Series in ’04. That was crazy. That was definitely the best moment because of everything it meant to us and to the fans.”
- Q. What is the best team you have played for?
- A. “That’s a tough one. I’d have to say ’04. That team led the league in almost all categories offensively and our pitching staff was crazy. We had special players on that team.”
- Q. Who is the best pitcher you ever faced?
- A. “That’s easy. Pedro. You know why? Every pitch he had was the best pitch in the game at the time. His breaking ball went from 12 to 6. His changeup was the best I’ve ever seen. The fastball. Everything was really good.”
(Ortiz was 3 for 17 against Martinez, striking out six times. He did hit a home run off him in 2002, however. “I was lucky,” Ortiz said.)
- Q. Mike Mussina struck you out 27 times, the most by any pitcher. What made him so tough?
- A. “Mike struck me out a lot early in my career. But once I started seeing him more often, I started to hit him better. He had three different angles for his pitches. But I figured him out.”
(The numbers bear this out. Ortiz had two hits in his first 29 at-bats against Mussina and struck out 14 times. He was 16 of 45 for a .356 average after that, with four home runs.)
- Q. If you could change anything about baseball, what would it be?
- A. “Travel. When we play the last game in a series on the road, that should be a day game. It should be that way for everybody. The travel beats you up and people don’t realize that. More day games would make that better.”
- Q. If they make a David Ortiz movie, who plays you?
- A. “I would like it to be Samuel L. Jackson. I love him. He’s so cool.”
- Q. Will you still be part of Boston when you retire?
- A. “Forever. Life takes different turns and my life brought me to Boston. I’ll be around there forever. It might not be every day, but you’ll see me around there.”
- Q. If you could play any position, what would it be?
- A. “Believe it or not, shortstop. I always liked that position. When I started playing Little League, I used to go play shortstop with a lefthanded glove. It was fun. I was too big to play there but I had so much fun.”
- Q. Maybe you can play there one inning this season.
- A. “We better be up by a lot of runs, bro.”
- Q. Would you want your son to play baseball?
- A. “Hopefully. This is a wonderful career, man. Baseball is a career where it’s a tough sport but if you look at baseball players, we’re pretty humble compared to other sports.
“You don’t hear about baseball players getting in trouble like other sports. It keeps your mind busy thinking about the game. You pretty much don’t have much time to think about other things. There’s not much room to do stupid things, seems like. That is my personal experience.
“I would definitely like my kid to be like me and keep himself busy. The more busy you keep yourself, the less trouble you get into.”
- Q. Do you care about the Hall of Fame?
- “I’m not going to lie to you and say I don’t. But it’s not my decision. I think what I did, if you compare that to other players, it’s a great career. I’m proud of what I did in this game. But that’s not for five years. We’ll see.”
- Q. Who are the next players to get to 500 home runs?
- A. “Miguel Cabrera and Adrian Beltre. I’m rooting for them. Mike Trout could do it, too. He has great power. I don’t know if he can or not. You have to play a lot of years and stay healthy. It’s hard. You have to be super consistent.”
- Q. Outside of Fenway, what is your favorite spot around Boston?
- A. “It’s actually my neighborhood [in Weston]. I like it there. It’s so quiet and peaceful. There’s no crime. I like to be at home because I travel so much. I love sitting in my backyard on a hot summer night, me and my wife. We look up at the moon and the stars and just chill. I can’t wait to get home sometimes to do that. Just chill with her.”
- Q. What will you miss the most when you retire?
- A. “Being around the guys, my teammates. They distract me in a good way every day. They all want a piece of me and that inspires me and makes my day fun.”