"She was one
of the best mothers ever," Ortiz says. "She was pretty much my
everything. It's tough, man. I come from a poor family, but I had a good
education and a good home. That counts for everything. My mom, she wasn't like
a baseball mother who knew everything about the game. She just wanted me to be
happy with what I was doing."
Both his parents,
Ortiz says, stressed the importance of education, but it was Leo, a former
semi-pro ballplayer, who advised David to give up his other love, basketball,
to concentrate on baseball. It was baseball that brought Ortiz to Wisconsin in
1996, where, while playing Class A ball at age 20, he met his wife, Tiffany,
and started a family that includes two daughters, Jessica, 9, and Alexandra, 5,
and a son, D'Angelo, 1 1/2.
The year that
began with his mother's death, 2002, would also be Ortiz's last with the Twins.
He hit .272 with 20 home runs and 75 RBIs platooning at first base for a young
team that reached the AL Championship Series. Minnesota, though, was not high
on Ortiz, who seemed injury-prone (he missed chunks of time with wrist and knee
injuries), was not a polished fielder and couldn't catch up with good fastballs
on his hands. Minnesota G.M. Terry Ryan figured that Ortiz's development had
stalled and decided to trade him. "He just wasn't getting it done here, for
whatever reason," Ryan says. Then he admits, "I made a bad baseball
He wasn't alone.
Ryan tried to trade Ortiz for two months. "Not one team made an offer,"
Ryan says. "Nothing."
December 2002, the Twins released Ortiz. Finding a job at that point of the
off-season looked so difficult to him that he told his agents, Fernando Cuza
and Diego Benz, to check for openings in Japan and Mexico. "[The Twins] did
me that bad," Ortiz says. "I never had a problem with anybody in that
organization. Ever, bro. I was a good teammate. I respect everybody. I never
had no argument with no coach, nobody. I never did anything wrong, but they did
me wrong. No respect, bro. I was lucky I got a job with the Red Sox. There were
other teams, but they were offering me way less money."
The Red Sox gave
him $1.25 million and figured he was one of five guys--along with Jeremy
Giambi, Shea Hillenbrand, Kevin Millar and Bill Mueller--who would combine to
fill three spots (first, third and DH). Six weeks into the season Ortiz showed
so little power (two homers) that his teammates were calling him Juan Pierre
(the light-hitting leadoff man who's now with the Chicago Cubs). Ortiz wanted
out of Boston. "I called my agents," he recalls, "and said, 'If you
guys are not here tomorrow, you guys are fired.'"
After the next
day's game Ortiz and his agents met with Epstein in the players' parking lot
outside Fenway Park. "I told Theo, 'I want you to trade me or release
me,'" Ortiz says. "'I can't be sitting here watching this circus
anymore, guys I know I can do better than. Me just watching from the bench? I'm
not that kind of guy. I don't clap for something that doesn't deserve
"Give me a
couple of days," Epstein recalls saying. "I promise you we've got
something in the works to free up a spot for you."
On May 29, 2003,
Epstein traded Hillenbrand to the Arizona Diamondbacks for righthander
Byung-Hyun Kim, a forgettable trade for Boston except for the opportunity it
gave Ortiz. Finally, he could smile.
Ortiz had felt
stifled in Minnesota, an organization that so emphasizes situational hitting
that no Twin has hit 30 home runs in a season since 1987. The 6'4" Ortiz
was the square peg who didn't fit in the round hole. "They wanted me to
stay inside the ball," Ortiz says, referring to a style in which a
lefthanded hitter tries to hit inside pitches to leftfield. "They were
teaching that to everyone. That's why nobody ever hits home runs there. But
when you're young in the big leagues and the coach tells you to do something
and you don't do it and you get negative results, then you're f-----. They're
going to sit you down."