David Ortiz is showing no signs of slowing down at age 37.
The Red Sox slugger remains a media favorite, his quotes frequently lighting up reporters’ notebooks. And he still energizes one of baseball’s most passionate fan bases.
When the Twins were in Boston last week, Ortiz was in the news for a reason he disdained when a column by the Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy wondered if performance-enhancing drugs have fueled his longevity. Ortiz was defiant, arguing that he has been tested a dozen times already this season.
Ortiz, according to the column, “fits the models” of a steroid user, partly because he is from the Dominican Republic. That did not go over well.
“The guy came to see me and asked some questions about steroids, and when you see the writing, it basically focuses on the fact that I’m Dominican and that many Dominicans have been caught using steroids,” Ortiz told ESPN Deportes. “And what about the Americans?”
Only a few weeks earlier, Ortiz was the face of a city attempting to move forward following the Boston Marathon bombing. He took the microphone during a pregame ceremony on April 20 at Fenway Park in front of a packed, emotional crowd and delivered a speech that included an expletive that was televised live by Fox.
The crowd roared. It was a Big Papi moment. Instead of landing him in hot water, the Federal Communications Commission and Major League Baseball overlooked the language. Now Ortiz is selling bats with the phrases he used that day to raise funds for victims of the bombings.
All proving that it takes a lot to derail Ortiz.
In his 17th major league season, Ortiz brings a .325 batting average, five homers and 21 RBI to Target Field this weekend when the Twins play the Red Sox.
By now, Twins fans likely are familiar with how the team released Ortiz following the 2002 season. Ortiz landed with the Red Sox and quickly became a force in their lineup. He remains one to this day.
In fact, he seems to be a force in everything he does.
“He’s phenomenal,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He’s folklore in Boston and, for us, he was one of the best guys we’ve ever had around. Loved having him in the clubhouse. Loved having him as a player.”
In order for the Twins to win three of four games at Boston last week, they had to go through Big Papi.
With closer Glen Perkins pitching in the ninth inning of the series finale May 9, Ortiz batted with a man on and Boston trailing 5-3. Ortiz laced a hot grounder that happened to be right at first baseman Justin Morneau, ending the game. The Twins felt like they dodged a big bullet.
“We’ve had that guy on our team and I loved it when he walked to the plate,” Gardenhire said, “but I don’t like watching him walk up there too many times now. He can hit it a long ways.”
Ortiz began the season late because of sore Achilles’ tendon. He recently revealed that he has been battling an oblique strain. Yet his bat is as quick as ever, and opponents are as nervous as ever.
“He’s like a lefthanded-hitting Miguel Cabrera,” Twins catcher Joe Mauer said.
In the series opener, won 6-5 in 11 innings by the Red Sox on May 6, Mauer and Anthony Swarzak tried to get Ortiz out in the eighth inning. They got ahead 0-2 in the count, but Mauer noticed Ortiz took strike two on the inside corner as if he expected it. Mauer worried about coming inside with another pitch, but that’s Swarzak’s strength, and the righthander was all for it.
“I knew I had him if I make my pitch,” Swarzak said.
Swarzak tried to come inside with that 0-2 pitch, but missed over the plate. Ortiz pounded the mistake for a double.
“He’s been like that for years,” Swarzak said, “and you have to be real careful going inside on him, especially down and in because he can lift that ball.”
Ortiz has hit 348 of his 406 career home runs in a Boston uniform. He also continues to be one of the faces of a Red Sox organization that won the World Series in 2004 and ’07. And he’s a reason why they have been one of the surprise teams in the league so far this season, following Boston’s miserable 69-93 season last year.
When his hot shot landed in Morneau’s glove, Ortiz saw his 25-game hitting streak end, a streak that dated to last season. He didn’t sound too pleased about it.
“Baseball gods take cover,” he said after the game. ‘You know what I’m saying? Nothing much you can do. I can tell you one thing, that ball found Morneau. He was right there.”
That’s Big Papi style.