Quest for another ring drives Big Papi
Slugger has been re-energized by Boston's rebound this season
DENVER -- David Ortiz was in a good mood on Wednesday as he held court for nearly 15 minutes, talking about the glory days of the past and the ones that could be ahead for the Red Sox in the next few weeks.
Sitting in the same visitors' clubhouse where he celebrated his second World Series championship some six years earlier, Ortiz possessed great perspective on how winning is a lot harder than he understood a few years back. He won two rings in a span of four seasons and developed big dreams about more to come.
"Oh man, you feel like Michael Jordan. He did it," Ortiz said, referring to the six championships Jordan won with the Chicago Bulls. "Why couldn't we? That's another level anyway."
If the Red Sox, who are on pace to finish with the best record in the American League, can win 11 games this October, Ortiz would be the only player to have rings from 2004, '07 and '13. Though Ortiz is having a terrific season individually, the thought of another ring is what has kept him perked up for weeks.
"That'd be great, man. I got to start looking for my other two, I don't know where they're at," quipped Ortiz. "I never wear them, though."
Yet Ortiz knows how fun they were to win. Contrast that to the misery he felt while serving as a spectator the past three Octobers.
As Ortiz now knows, when you play in October, it flies by. When you watch other teams play, it drags on.
"That stunk," Ortiz said. "Then, the funny thing about it is, the playoffs are kind of longer than ever when you're not in it. It was long, but now going to the playoffs, it's great. I get prepared to play baseball all the way through to the last day, and here we are."
In Ortiz's final season with the Twins in 2002, he went all the way to the AL Championship Series, losing to the eventual World Series champion Angels.
The next year, his Red Sox lost a heartbreaking seven-game ALCS to the Yankees. Then, there was the fabled title of 2004. Backed by Ortiz's production, Boston also made postseason runs in '05, '07, '08 and '09.
For Ortiz, planning the offseason was simple. He wouldn't make any plans until November.
"After my first year here, I started planning things in November, to be honest with you," Ortiz said. "Because I would make the playoff part of my schedule. And I've been able to go to the playoffs a lot. Last year was like -- it was bad. It was bad. Especially the year that we were having, and dealing with an injury that I didn't know when I was going to be good to go. … It was like a lot of things at once. It was crazy."
And now things feel normal again for the gregarious slugger who, by the way, is having a big year at the age of 37. In 135 games, Ortiz is hitting .307 with 29 homers, 100 RBIs and a .956 OPS -- this from a guy who missed the first two weeks of the season with lingering soreness in his right Achilles.
There was talk that Ortiz would get regular rest so he could manage the injury that plagued him so much in 2012. Manager John Farrell would constantly check with Ortiz to see how the veteran was feeling, and Ortiz would always assure the manager he was fine.
"Once I started playing, you're not going to get me out of there," Ortiz said. "John's been really good at asking me, but once I'm in, I'm in. I don't care about anything but playing and trying to win ballgames. I was supposed to play I would say, 20 to 30 games less than what I have. That ain't me, dog. I don't buy into that."
Instead, he plays almost every day, and he rakes.
"I think we realized as long as he got healthy, he was going to produce," Farrell said. "Clearly he's done that. The thing that stands out to me about David is he seemingly has played with a renewed energy. There's a positivity about him -- [from] he way he's run the bases to the encouragement he's always given his teammates.
"I just look at a guy who is coming off a severe injury and he's appreciative of the game when it's been taken away for a little while. He's played with that renewed energy that has been awesome to see play out."
In 244 postseason at-bats, Ortiz has 12 homers, 44 RBIs and a .908 OPS. He will try to add to that legacy starting on Oct. 4, when the Red Sox open the AL Division Series.
"I feel lucky to just be in the big leagues, and having the opportunity to be at this level and have the career that I have is a blessing," said Ortiz. "That's why I appreciate everything every day. I try to keep it humble, and try to get the job done."
For Ortiz, playing on a winning team is easy. It's what he endured last year that was so hard.
"It drags us all down," Farrell said of losing. "And to get back to winning again, that's been fun to watch him be at the center of that."
Ortiz hopes to be at the center of another parade in about a month.