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. Trust me.
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.
I’ve been in Boston for four years now and I plan to be here a lot longer. That’s something you should probably know. Early last season, the Red Sox signed me to a four-year, $52 million contract extension that will keep me with the team through 2010. The team holds an option for 2011, too, which means I could be in Boston for the next five years. I’ve learned that things can change quickly in baseball because the game is a business first, but I love playing for the Red Sox and I love the city of Boston, and I think the city and the fans love me back. That means a lot. I hope I finish my career here. My wife and kids live with me in Boston and we spend most of our time here, year-round. I go back to my home in the Dominican Republic for a while each winter, but my kids are getting a little older now and they’re going to school, so we’ve decided to plant our roots in Boston, too.
In Boston, everywhere I go now, people treat me like I’m one of them. It’s one of the best things about living here. Last winter, when the Boston Celtics opened the basketball season, I went to the game with my wife, Tiffany, and a couple of our friends. We had seats under one of the baskets and they showed us on the scoreboard at halftime, and the place went crazy. They asked me to be part of the halftime show, when the Celtics mascot—some dude named “Lucky” who’s dressed up as a leprechaun—sets up a trampoline and does some wild and crazy dunks, things like that. So the dude, Lucky, tells me to stand near the trampoline and hold the ball in the air, and he comes running down, jumps on the trampoline, grabs the ball, and does a flip in the air, then dunks it.
I have to admit it, bro.
It was pretty awesome.
The place went crazy again—I know they were cheering for Lucky—but I have to say: It’s nice to feel part of something like that. Not long before the game at the Garden, I was involved in this charity event where I played Wiffle ball with some kids in Weston, a suburb of Boston. A little while after that, I donated some football jerseys to one of the high schools in the city, and I even put on one of the jerseys when I gave them to the school. It was an unbelievable feeling, just like the one I had about a month or two after that, when I was in the Dominican to donate $200,000 to a children’s hospital in Santo Domingo, the Plaza de la Salud Hospital de Niños. We raised that money in a lot of ways, by auctioning off my record home run balls from the 2006 season, through donations made by the Red Sox and my teammates, from a hitting clinic that I did for kids in the Boston area, and from a fund-raiser and party we held in downtown Boston. All of that stuff really makes you feel good, bro. You feel like you can make a difference. You feel like you’re doing the right thing.
That’s why I want to keep helping. I feel like I’m as much a part of Boston now as I am of the Dominican Republic. My parents always told me to remember who I was, to help others, so that’s what I feel like I’m doing now.
Since I came to Boston, things have changed so much. I really don’t know where to start. It’s hard for me to go back to the Dominican sometimes because some of the people there always want something from me, but I think that’s true of all Dominican players. I’m sure it’s the same for Pedro Martinez and Vladimir Guerrero, Miguel Tejada and Bartolo Colon. Those guys are all great players. We’re all Dominicans and we love our country. But there are times when going back there can be really hard because the people expect so much from us, because they want to know us so bad that we can’t go anywhere or do anything.
Let me try to explain.
A couple of years ago—after the 2005 season, I think—I went back to the Dominican after the season, like I usually do. I can’t remember if it was December or January. But there is this little park near my apartment in Santo Domingo, and it’s a place I go with my friends to just hang out, listen to music, talk about things. Music is something I really love. We can spend hours out there just hanging out and killing time, relaxing and listening to music. It’s one of the things I really like to do when I go back to the Dominican. The baseball season can be so long sometimes, so hectic, that you really appreciate those times during the winter when everything slows down. That’s when ballplayers get to live like normal people again, when they get to go out and do the things that most people take for granted.
While we were hanging out, some dude recognized me and wanted to say hello. So I went over to the guy and met him, shook his hand, tried to be nice to him. I expected him to do the same, but he wouldn’t let me go. He wanted to keep talking, hang out with us, be my friend. My guess is that he probably wanted or needed some money, which always makes things a little uncomfortable for me. What am I supposed to do? I want to be polite to people and be friendly to everyone, and I tell my friends the same thing. Be nice. Don’t be rude. People usually just want to say hello and let you know that they see you on TV and watch the games, that they appreciate the way you do your job and the fact that you look happy.
And I tell them: I am happy. Baseball is supposed to be fun. That’s why I play.
And then we all go on our way.
In the Dominican, it’s just a little hard sometimes. I don’t know if I can really explain it. Baseball players are so big there—they become such heroes—that they forget we are all just people. I’m sure they all mean well, but sometimes—like this dude in the park—they start to hang around all the time. It can make you a little worried. So my friends had to go over to this one guy and tell him—politely—that I just wanted to hang out with my friends for a while, that I was just another person, that I wanted to do my own thing. And the reason it’s hard is because I feel badly about it, because I would love to help every person I meet and solve everybody’s problems
But I’m sure I don’t need to tell you, bro.
The world doesn’t work that way.
Since I got to Boston—and since we won the World Series in 2004, especially—I’ve had to deal with a lot more of that stuff. And sometimes, when I start to feel like I’m complaining about it, I remind myself: I’m the same way! I remember one time when I was in the Bahamas with my wife, Tiffany, and we saw Evander Holyfield, and I couldn’t believe it. I was like, “Holy shit, Tiff! It’s Holyfield!” She couldn’t understand what I was getting so excited about. There was another time when I saw Denzel Washington and I felt the same way. And anytime I see a rapper, or someone whose music I listen to, I get excited and then I try to remind myself: That’s how Red Sox fans feel about you.
In Boston, for the most part, the fans have been great. Last Halloween, my wife took the kids out trick-or-treating and left me at home, and I was grilling in the backyard with some of my boys. That’s one of the other things I like to do. There weren’t many kids in our neighborhood, so I told my wife I’d take care of the trick-or-treaters. This woman brought her kids by and we gave out candy, took some pictures, did all of that stuff. It was fun. And then, all of a sudden, before we knew it, there were all these kids and parents coming to the house. We went out front to look and there was this line of cars all the way down the street and around the block—I’m not kidding, bro—and it was like, “Where did all of these people come from? Who goes trick-or-treating in their cars?” Someone must have called someone on their cell phone and told them that we were giving out candy and taking pictures, and all of a sudden there are all these people at the house. In a situation like that, there is just no way we can keep everybody happy.
And that’s when I start to feel bad again.
Aside from times like that, the people in Boston have been great. I might be out to dinner with Tiff or something and people will come up to us, just to say hi and shake my hand. That’s something we don’t mind. People here care so much about the Red Sox that you really feel like they care about you, and that’s something you don’t get in a lot of places. You really do feel like you know them and that they know you. It’s an unbelievable feeling. And then they move on and they give you back your privacy—your space—and it’s like they’re saying to you, “Hey, I just wanted to say hello and let you know how much I appreciate what you do, but I don’t want to bother you too much.” That really makes you feel good. It lets you know they respect you as a ballplayer and as a person.
And that’s really all that any ballplayer can ever ask for.
After the 2006 season ended, a lot of people asked me how I felt, if I was disappointed, where I thought the team was going. I’m not going to lie to you. It’s always disappointing when you lose, when things don’t go like you thought they would, but the frustration doesn’t last too long. It goes away. And when it does, you realize that sometimes you can only get better when you fail because that is what drives you. That’s how you learn.
With the Red Sox, we had a lot of questions when the season ended, but I was confident that our front office would do the things we needed to do to make us better. That’s one of the really nice things about playing in Boston. After I signed my last contract extension, Tiff and I decided to buy a house in the Boston area because we want our kids to go to school there and beause that’s where we’re happy. We belong to Red Sox Nation now and we belong in Boston. As long as I’m playing, that’s where we want to stay.
Like I said, right after the season I started working out right away, trying to get myself in better shape for 2007, trying to get better. There’s always room to improve. The clubhouse at Fenway Park is really empty at that time of year, but that can make it a good place to go and get work done, to focus. I work out two times a day, most times, and I try to be careful about what I eat, when I eat, what I do. And then I go home and take my two girls grocery shopping or play with my son, D’Angelo, and maybe I go in the backyard and grill some dinner for me and Tiff and the kids.
One day, right after the season ended, I was in the clubhouse after a workout just talking with some of my friends when they asked me how disappointing the season was with the way things went for the team. By that time, the games were over for a few weeks and I had a little time to think, to get my head straight, to see things more clearly. During the season, when you’re so focused on the games and trying to win, that can be a lot harder to do. We ended up winning eighty-six games and finishing in third place—the Toronto Blue Jays won eighty-seven games and finished just in front of us—and I did something no Red Sox player ever has done. I felt like I was still getting better as a player and as a person, that I was still learning things and growing. That’s really all you can ever ask. As disappointing as the season was—and it was—sometimes you need to be reminded that there are other people out there working hard, too, and they want to win as bad as you do. You have to work and fight for everything you get because they’re probably going to do the same.
For me, that’s the way I try to look at things. That’s what works. Just because you take a little step backward one year, that doesn’t mean you can’t go forward again the next. You just have to learn how to deal with it. So when people ask me now about dealing with failure, about bouncing back from a season like the one we had last year, I usually try to tell them all the same thing and give them the kind of message my parents always gave to me:
I can handle it, bro.
I’ve been through worse.
My mom and pop taught me that much.
Copyright © 2007 by David Ortiz with Tony Massarotti. All rights reserved.