SI Vault
Tom Verducci
November 07, 2007
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
November 07, 2007

Big Papi: A Man For All Seasons


View CoverRead All Articles

EVERY BALLPARK 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, Dominican Republic, 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.

In Ortiz, now 31, there is a little bit of something for everyone to like, which helps explain why he's been voted an All-Star four times and why his Boston Red Sox teammates, in one of the more respectful acts in clubhouse culture, ceded him total control of the stereo. Ortiz's popularity, like his gap-toothed, omnipresent smile, crosses cultures and generations.

"He appeals 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."

Says Puerto 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.

"Everybody goes through some tough times in their life, no matter what you do. Man, I've had my tough times."

EIGHT MINUTES. 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 Angela Rosa.

"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. 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 semipro 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 daughters Jessica, 11, and Alexandra, 6, and son D'Angelo, 3.

Continue Story
1 2 3