seems smaller, every room brighter, every worry lighter when you're in the
company of David Americo Ortiz, the friendly galoot of a designated hitter for
the eternally grateful Boston Red Sox. In girth and mirth Ortiz evokes Babe
Ruth, Santa Claus and your favorite stuffed animal from childhood. The only son
of Enrique and Angela Rosa Ortiz--"I'm my mom's baby boy, you know?" he
says proudly--grew up loved in Santo Domingo, D.R., and seems intent on loving
the world back. � Runyon or Twain might have invented a character like Ortiz,
if it were possible for even such expansive imaginations to conjure a 230-pound
teddy bear who speaks like a California surfer with a thick Spanish accent; a
Dominican who married a Wisconsin girl and has wintered part time in the state;
a hip-hop, bling-covered fashion plate who underneath his cool threads wears
black boxer shorts with who's your daddy? printed in all directions in Day-Glo
colors; and--most amazing of all--one of the game's great sluggers, who, at 27,
was released by the Minnesota Twins after no other major league club wanted him
in a trade.
Ortiz, now 30,
ranked fourth in the American League in home runs (18) and first in RBIs (56)
at week's end, a pace that would leave him with 48 homers and 149 RBIs for the
season and a three-year run in which he had no fewer than 41 homers and 139
RBIs. Only two players in history maintained such high production for three
consecutive seasons: Ken Griffey Jr. (1996 through '98) and Ruth, who did so
for six straight years (1926 through '31). A .300 hitter last season, Ortiz was
batting .265, blaming the drop partly on the extreme defensive shifts employed
against him (right).
In Ortiz there is
a little bit of something for everyone to like, which helps explain why he
received more All-Star votes from major league fans than any other player last
year; why his Boston Red Sox teammates, in one of the more respectful acts in
clubhouse culture, ceded him total control of the stereo; and why a terminally
ill eight-year-old boy, given days to live, asked to visit Fenway Park to meet
him in April. Ortiz's popularity, like his gap-toothed, omnipresent smile,
crosses cultures and generations.
to every demographic," Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein says.
"People love watching athletes who you can tell enjoy what they're doing.
And to have a guy who comes to work every day with a smile--that's especially
huge in our clubhouse, where we had problems in the past."
Rican--born teammate Alex Cora, "People love to be around David. The unique
thing about him is that he communicates just as easily with the American
players as with the Latin players. Most of the Latin stars don't have that
quality. He brings the team together."
Ortiz thrives on
such interaction, preferring to spend as much time as possible around friends
and family. Yes, he is outgoing by nature, but the company also keeps him from
the dark thoughts that plague him sometimes when he is alone. Behind the smile
there is pain. "I start thinking about life after death," Ortiz says.
"I've got to quit thinking about it because it's very deep. Very deep.
Sometimes you start thinking about it, and you don't feel like you want to be
alive, so I don't like to get all quiet.
goes through some tough times in their life, no matter what you do. Man, I've
had my tough times."
Ortiz remembers it as exactly eight minutes. It is all the time needed for an
elite runner to cover two miles, for an orchestra to play the second movement
of Brahms's Symphony No. 1 or, as Ortiz found out, for your heart to break. On
New Year's Day 2002, it was eight minutes from that awful phone call from his
sister's boyfriend--Your mom has been in an accident--to the time Ortiz arrived
at the roadside wreck near his home in Santo Domingo. A dump truck. His mom's
car. And Angela Rosa ... gone.
"I was there
eight minutes after it happened, and she was dead already," Ortiz says.
"That's why I don't worry about baseball. I don't feel like I put any
pressure on myself when I'm playing baseball. Not after that."
Ortiz was 26
years old at the time and still trying to establish himself as an every-day
player with the Twins, who had plucked him from the Seattle Mariners' farm
system in 1996, in one of those pennant-race deadline deals in which the
anxious Mariners wanted veteran third baseman Dave Hollins. At the end of the
'97 season Ortiz was promoted to the big leagues, and the first person he
called was, of course, Angela Rosa. She and Enrique, whom everyone calls Leo,
were always there for him. There was the day Leo, who sold auto parts, left
work to watch his boy play Little League for the first time. David smacked a
home run, and as he rounded third, Leo bolted from the stands and interrupted
his son's trot to home by throwing a big hug around him. Though David still
visits Leo regularly in Santo Domingo, things will never be the same without