proud intrigued to bring you Chapter 1 of David Ortiz’s autobiography, written with Boston Herald beat writer Tony Massarotti, Big Papi: My Story of Big Dreams and Big Hits. There are few players as good for baseball as David Ortiz, and the fact that he plays for the Red Sox is just gravy.
There’s not much else I can add except to say that if the rest of the book is as interesting as the first chapter, this will certainly be a fun read. Bro.
The Birth of Big papi
To be honest, I still laugh about it sometimes. I’ll be out there on the field, warming up for a game or something, and somebody from the other team will come over and ask me: "What’s up, Papi?" I might not even know the guy, might not even recognize him, but he knows me by my nickname. So I’ll say hello back—"Wassup, dude?"—and then get back to my running or stretching or whatever. But inside, I’ll be laughing.
I’m really not sure how it started, bro. I have no idea. After I got to Boston and started playing for the Red Sox, I would walk around the clubhouse and talk to guys, and I starting calling them papi. Some of my teammates did it, too. Someone like Manny Ramirez would walk by a reporter or someone whose name he didn’t really know, and he would say things like, "How you doing, papi?" or "It’s a beautiful day, papi!" and people would laugh. In the Dominican Republic, we use the word all the time, like Americans would use "buddy" or "pal," but it’s more like "daddy" or "pops." It’s just the way we talk. And in Boston, before we knew it, everybody on the team was calling everyone else "papi," and it wasn’t too long before the name somehow belonged to me.
Wherever I go now, bro, that’s what people call me. I’m serious. Whenever I come out of the dugout before a game, if it’s in winter ball or spring training or the playoffs, the fans all start screaming it. Even in the Dominican Republic, where anybody can be papi, that’s what everybody calls me. Before the 2006 season, when we had the World Baseball Classic for the first time, I couldn’t go anywhere without people calling out my name.
There were teams there from the United States and the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, and Cuba. There were teams and fans from everywhere. And no matter where I went, no matter who we were playing against, the people all knew my name from seeing me on television or in the newspaper, or wherever.
It’s funny, bro.
And it took me a little while to get used to it.
Since I got to Boston—since 2004, especially—a lot of things have changed. My life is totally different now. I’m still the same person—still my mom’s baby—no matter how different things get. It can be hard for me now to go places, especially when I’m home in the Dominican, but I’m happier than I’ve ever been. All my life, I’ve had good people around me, people who gave me good advice and tried to teach me things. My mom. My pop. My wife, my family, and my friends. I’ve always been the kind of person who tries to focus on the good things, who tries to take the positive out of something. My mom was the same way, and my pop is, too, and my parents always tried to teach me to get better at things, to improve, to work at them and to keep trying, no matter what happens. That’s what we should all try to do, bro—to keep getting better, no matter what we do.
So starting again this year, in 2007, that’s my goal: to get better.
Since I got to Boston—even before—I feel like I’ve been getting better every year.
People always ask me how that happened, if there’s some secret or something, and I always tell them the same thing: It’s confidence and hard work. In 2002, my final year playing for the Minnesota Twins, I hit 20 homers in about 400 at-bats, and I thought that was pretty good. In 2003, my first year in Boston, I hit 31 homers in about 450 at-bats.
Since that time, when the Red Sox started playing me everyday, I’ve hit 41 homers (in 2004), 47 homers (in 2005) and 54 homers (in 2006). Basically, my RBIs have been going up, too. I even missed some time last year late in the season, so I know I can be better. Maybe I can hit 60 homers. Maybe I can hit 70. Maybe I can help the Red Sox win another World Series.
It sounds crazy, right? But let me tell you: If you set your mind to it, you can accomplish almost anything. You need the confidence and you need the support, but you can do it.
The team—I think we’re going to better this year, too. We had a lot of changes last year, a lot of new players, and we had a lot of injuries, too. We had a lot of guys who were playing in Boston for the very first time, and some of those guys had never played in the American League before. It takes a little while to come over to a new league, like those guys did, and to learn the pitchers, make adjustments, get used to everything. I know because I’ve played my whole career in the American League and it still happens with me. Every year, there are new guys in the league and new pitchers to learn, things like that. But the longer you’re around, the more you know and the less you have to learn, and the easier it all gets.
Look at someone like Mike Lowell, bro. He’s a smart dude who’s been around awhile, but he never really played in the American League before 2006. He hit .280 with 20 home runs and 80 RBIs last season—which is a good year—and I bet you he’ll be even better this year. I feel the same way about our young pitchers, guys like Jonathan Papelbon and Josh Beckett. Papelbon is nasty, bro, and he’s been nasty since the day he got to the big leagues. How much better can that kid get? I remember once when we were in Toronto in 2005, the dude pitched three innings in relief and he didn’t give up a hit or a run. It was a game we had to win. It was late in the year and we were trying to make the playoffs, and we were having all kinds of problems with the bullpen. The kid came into the game—he was a rookie, bro—and it was like he’d been pitching in the big leagues his whole life. I remember the game because I hit a home run in the eleventh inning and we won, 6–5—it was my second homer of the game—and Pap got his first major-league win.
I remember the reporters coming up to me after the game and asking me about him, and I remember telling them that Pap reminded me of Roger Clemens. And he does, bro. As long as that kid stays healthy, he’s going to do great things.
I only wish I had that kind of confidence when I was a rookie.
Beckett, too, dude. You just watch. He’s got great shit. He won sixteen games for us last year and he’s only going to get better. He’s only six months older than Papelbon, I think.
He’s still learning. Beckett pitched his whole career in the National League before coming to the Red Sox, so he didn’t know the hitters or know the league, and the whole season was a learning experience for him. The American League is tough, bro. It’s a lot different than the National League. You’ve got big dudes like me in the middle of the lineup and you can’t make mistakes over here. It’s just different. A pitcher can get to the end of the lineup in the National League and he can pitch around guys, save pitches, do things like that because the other pitcher is coming to bat. But you can’t do that kind of stuff in the American League, and it takes time to learn.
You have to have patience with people, bro.
Even though we missed the playoffs last year, let me tell you: We didn’t have a terrible year. We had a lot of injuries, especially late in the year, and we have a lot of talent. One of the good things about playing in a place like Boston is we’re always going to have talent, no matter what, and that’s a big difference from a place like Minnesota, where I played the first four or five years of my career. In Boston, we have to compete against the New York Yankees every year and we know the Yankees are going to be good, too. Our owners and our general manager make changes every year—they’ve made some since the end of last season—and they’re always trying to make us better. After the end of last season, they went out and invested a lot of money to improve our team. They spent more than $100 million just to get Daisuke Matsuzaka, a pitcher from Japan who should be a big help to our staff for years to come. Our front-office people have hard jobs, bro, but we have to have confidence in them, too.
Making the playoffs is something we want to do every year, but even when you miss the postseason, October can still be valuable. You can make good use of the time off. The baseball season is long and it can wear you down, and by the fall of 2006 we had been to the playoffs three years in a row. In 2004, when we won the World Series, the off-season was like one big party. Wherever we went, everybody wanted to talk about the Red Sox.
It seemed like there was always someplace to go, somewhere to celebrate, and I think we all felt that way going into spring training and into the early part of 2005. It was like the season never ended. And then we made the playoffs again in 2005, and even though we got swept by the Chicago White Sox in the first round, it was like spring training came fast. We had the World Baseball Classic and then the season started, and then all of a sudden we were right back there in August and September again, trying to make the playoffs.
Last winter, finally, I think we all got to catch our breath, get some rest, prepare for the season like we really wanted to. And because the Yankees kicked our asses a little bit, because they beat us by eleven games and we missed the playoffs and finished in third place, maybe that was a good wake-up call for us. Nothing ever comes easy. You have to work for everything you get because your competition is working, too. You have to work hard just to keep up and you have to work harder to get better, or we all know what’s going to happen.
You’re going to get beat.
And I don’t know about you, but I don’t like to lose.
Let me tell you what I’ve been doing since the end of last season: I’ve been working out.
After the season ended, almost right away, I started going to the ballpark to get ready for this season. I bet you a lot of my teammates (and opponents) did the same thing. The baseball season doesn’t officially start until April, but we show up at spring training in February. I usually start playing winter ball even earlier than that. And if you want to make it through a season that long, if you want your body to hold up, you have to work at it in October, November, and December.
I want to tell you something funny, bro: Anytime I go somewhere, people expect me to be fat. I’m serious. Last year, after the season ended, I went out to buy a new shirt at this store someone recommended. I walked into the place and one of the guys there recognized me, and we started talking. I tried on a couple of shirts and the dude is looking at me and he said, "Can I tell you something?" I said sure. So the guy tells me that he thought I was bigger, that he thought I was fat, that he watches the game on television and he was surprised how different I look in person.
Know what I told him?
"I get that all the time."
Seriously, bro, I’m not joking. Every time I go someplace where the people have never met me before, they all tell me the same thing: I look fatter on TV. I’m a big dude—I’m six foot four and between 255 and 260 pounds—but I try to take pretty good care of myself. In baseball, you have to. Like most guys, I’m in the weight room a lot during the season and I try to eat right, but I’m a big dude. Even my teammates give me shit about it sometimes. But I wear a really big uniform that must make me look fat on TV, so every time I meet someone for the first time, they look surprised that I’m not this big, fat guy.
I always joke with them: "Who do you think I am, Kevin Millar?"
(Trust me, bro. Millar would say the same thing about me.)
I’m not kidding about the uniform, bro. I like it baggy. I think my shirt is one or two sizes too big and my pants are a lot bigger than that. I have a 40-inch waist and a 34-inch inseam—so my real pants size is 40–34—but the ones I wear in the game have a 46-inch waist and a 40-inch inseam. They must make me look fat, but I like the uniform to be loose so I can move my arms and legs. And then I hear from people like the guy at the store and I wonder how big I really look to the people who are watching on TV.
My pop, he’s in pretty good shape. My mom wasn’t heavy, either. But I’m a big dude and I’m over thirty years old now, so I decided after last season that I was going to start taking even better care of myself. I started working out with a new personal trainer and I changed my diet, and I stopped eating as much pasta and rice, things like that. If you’re not careful, bro, that stuff can stick to you. My trainer told me that the workouts won’t mean anything unless I change what I eat, too, so I changed everything at the start of the off-season. While the baseball playoffs were going on, my trainer had me lifting in the morning and running on the treadmill in the afternoon. I never did much running before, but I told him I wanted to lose ten or fifteen pounds before the start of the season.
That was the goal, bro. That’s what I told my teammates, too. I wanted to get stronger but be in better shape, and so I started working out harder than I ever did before.
The baseball? That doesn’t usually start until December, bro. For a while there, I don’t even pick up a bat. I get my swings in every day during the season, so I like to take a little break after the year. I usually stay in the United States in October and early November, and then I go back to the Dominican, where the weather is warmer. By the time January comes, I’m hitting for at least part of almost every day, and I still work out, eat right, stay in shape. I try to keep doing that right through spring training. But once the season starts and we start playing games—and we start traveling from one city to the next—it gets a lot harder to stay in the routine.
But that’s why it’s so important to do it all when you have the time.
Like everybody, I get tired sometimes. That’s when it really gets hard. The baseball season is long—we play just about every day—and the games come fast. Sometimes it feels like you wake up, play, go to bed, and wake up again. The routine wears you down.
You hear a lot of players say sometimes that they get more tired mentally than physically, and that’s what they mean. You just don’t get any breaks. The average person doesn’t understand a lot of that because they see us play the games, but there’s a lot more to it than that. For every hour we spend on the field, we have to spend at least an hour preparing. Maybe it’s more like two hours. We might play every day for three weeks in a row. I remember once in the 2005 season, because of rainouts, we played thirty games straight. It was late in the season and we were tired, and that was before we had to play all those games in a row. By the time it was over, we were wiped out. We had nothing left. That was the year we played the White Sox in the playoffs. We were a very tired team, and we lost in three straight.
Looking back, I don’t know how we even made it that far, but I think that tells you something about the guys we had on the team. They were tough. They kept playing. We did the best we could.
When you get a little older, like me, that’s why the preparation becomes even more important. After the 2006 season, I turned thirty-one years old. I’m still in the prime of my career, but I’m not twenty-five anymore. Every year now, I have to prepare myself for it and work hard before the season begins, because I need all the strength I can get once the games start. As you get older, life gets easier in some ways; in other ways it gets harder. Baseball is the same. You don’t have the same strength and energy when you get older, but you also learn to save it. You know when you need it. And you learn to control your body, your emotions, so that you can stay as sharp as possible for as long as possible.
I’m not going to lie to you, bro.
Playing baseball is hard work.
But if you ask most of the guys playing in the major leagues, we’ll all tell you the same thing.
We love what we do.
Copyright © 2007 by David Ortiz with Tony Massarotti. All rights reserved.