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David Ortiz- Boston’s Slugging Big Papi

Grapefruit League

David Ortiz Of the Boston Red Sox may be the most popular athlete in New England right now, riding a wave of goodwill that he generates with his bat. Aside from perhaps the Patriots’ Tom Brady, nobody in the Boston region has captured fans’ imaginations as has David Ortiz of the Red Sox. His clutch hitting and personable demeanor have made the baseball crazy area embrace him as they have embraced few Red Sox stars over the years. That tends to happen when you have the ability to carry a team Through the American League the way David Ortiz can.

The oldest of four children, David Ortiz Arias was born on November 18th, 1975 in Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic’s capital. The son of Enrique and Angela Rosa Ortiz, he was an easygoing child. His father was a slick fielding player who plied his trade for years in the Dominican pro and semipro leagues. As a child, Ortiz developed a love for the game. As a player he could not have been more different from his dad, because David Ortiz could hit! He grew into a strong, tall teenager who adopted the philosophy of swinging from his heels for the local high school team. At Estudis Espallat High School, Ortiz also played basketball, since he was over six feet tall, blessed with great coordination.

But his true love was baseball, and as he continued to grow in size and strength, pro scouts became aware of him. The left hand hitting Ortiz could hit the ball to all fields and drive a pitch when he got it in his wheelhouse, and in 1992 he was signed as a free agent by the Seattle Mariners of the American League. He spent one season with the Mariners’ Dominican Summer League team and in 1994, David Ortiz was sent to Seattle’s rookie-level Arizona League squad. He hit only .246 with a pair of home runs for Peoria, but played well in the field at first base. He stayed at Peoria in 1995 and began to hit, batting .332. He was named to the circuit’s All-Star team and given a promotion to the Class A Midwest League the next year. As a twenty year old, David Ortiz hit .322 with 34 doubles and 18 homers, again making the All-Star squad.

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In August the Mariners used Ortiz to acquire Dave Hollins from the Twins. He informed Minnesota that he was excited at the chance to be in their organization and that from hence forth he would drop the Arias from his name and be known as David Ortiz. He picked up where he left off in A ball, dominating the Florida League’s pitchers. In June of 1997 David Ortiz was bumped up to AA New Britain in Connecticut, where he hit .379 in thirty games. Before the year was out he had been sent to Triple A Salt Lake of the Pacific Coast League and then called up by the Twins in September. He hit over .300 in fifteen games and his season as a whole was great enough to be named the organization’s Minor League Player of the Year.

The Twins kept David Ortiz on the major league club in 1998, but he fractured a bone in his right wrist and was out of action until June. Despite the setback, he finished the season with 9 homers and 46 RBI in 86 contests. He starred in Caribbean winter ball, leading his Dominican team to the title over Puerto Rico, but as 1999’s spring training began, Ortiz hit so poorly in the Grapefruit League that he was sent back to the Pacific Coast League. The six-foot-four, two hundred thirty pound Ortiz did not accept the demotion well and took it out on the PCL’s hurlers to the tune of 30 homers and 110 RBI. His call up in September however was a disaster, as he went hitless in ten games with twelve strike outs. David Ortiz bounced back nicely in winter ball and as 2000 began he worked hard on his game, making the big club and settling in as an American League DH and first baseman by June. He hit .282 in 415 at bats and made only one error all year at first.

He fractured his wrist again in 2001, and did not make it back until late in July. He struggled upon his return, but a late season surge saw him wind up the campaign with 18 homers. He only hit .234, but at season’s end his swing was where he felt it should be. On New Year’s Day 2002, Ortiz’s mother was killed in an automobile accident. The Twins’ new manager, Ron Gardenhire, helped Ortiz through this difficult time. David put up the best statistics of his career to that point, with 20 homers and 75 RBI despite some knee problems. Minnesota shocked all of baseball by winning their division, and the Twins then upset the A’s in the playoffs before bowing to the Angels. But when Ortiz became eligible for arbitration at year’s end, the small market Twins decided not to give him the two million dollars it would have taken to keep him in Minnesota. He was released, but his countryman and friend, Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez, convinced Boston to take a chance on David Ortiz. They signed him for $1.25 million a year and he began the 2003 season in a platoon at first and DH with the Red Sox.

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David Ortiz’s fun loving and easygoing nature soon made him a clubhouse favorite, and when he started to pound the ball the Red Sox opened up a full time DH spot for him by sending Shea Hillenbrand to Arizona in a trade. He caught fire from July on and finished the season with 101 RBI and 31 homers. He hit Yankees pitching especially hard, which immediately began to endear him to the Red Sox faithful. He did nothing in the playoffs against the A’s until the deciding fifth game of the series, when he hit a big two-run double to send the Red Sox to the American League Championship Series against the hated Yanks. He had a pair of home runs and 6 RBI in the seven game series, won by New York on Aaron Boone’s dramatic walk off home run.

The Boston Red Sox brought in manager Terry Francona for the 2004 season, and Boston, led by the big bats of David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, obtained a wild card playoff spot at year’s end. Ortiz exploded for 41 homers and 139 RBI as the Red Sox lineup became the most fearsome in all of baseball. Ortiz, signed for two years at $6 million a year, became respected in the locker-room as a leader. He went 6 -11 versus the Angels in a three game sweep of Anaheim as the playoffs opened. He had acquired the nickname of “Big Papi” from his teammates, and they celebrated when his two run home run in extra innings clinched the series. But the mood soon turned sour when the Yanks went off to a three games to none lead in the American League Championship Series.

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The next four games are where David Ortiz became a Boston Red Sox legend forever. His twelfth inning walk off homer won Game Four and his bloop single won Game Five. Still, New York was heading home with a 3-2 series lead. However, Boston won Game Six and Ortiz homered early in Game Seven to propel the Red Sox to an unlikely comeback as they destroyed New York in the deciding tilt. For the series, he had hit .387 with 11 RBI, and earned the American League Championship Series MVP. He helped Boston avoid a World Series letdown against the Cardinals by knocking one out of the park in the opener, and garnering four RBI. The Red Sox won, and went on to an easy sweep of St. Louis with Ortiz hitting .308. Boston went wild, cherishing their first title in 86 years, and David Ortiz was idolized by all of New England as a hero.

A monster 2005 year followed, as Ortiz just missed being named American League MVP, hurt by the fact that he was a DH and didn’t play the field except for ten games. He wound up with 47 round trippers and 148 RBI, but despite David hitting .333 in the playoffs against the White Sox, the Sox were eliminated in the first round. In April of 2006, Boston gave David Ortiz a four year deal worth over $50 million, as “Big Papi” looks to once again lead the Red Sox back to the playoffs. If he never did another thing in baseball, he would never be forgotten for what he did to help the Red Sox defeat their bitter rivals from New York in 2004. But at age thirty, David Ortiz shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. He will be a fixture as an All-Star and happy go lucky leader for years to come in Beantown.