(Photo caption: David Ortiz showed off his leaner physique today at spring training camp in Fort Myers. He quipped to reporters: “you should see me naked”.)
David Ortiz started the 2009 season bearing the weight of extraordinary Red Sox Nation expectations. Fellow slugger Manny Ramirez had been dealt to the Dodgers at the previous trade deadline, and while Jason Bay was expected to roughly replace Ramirez’s production, the eyes of the Nation turned to Ortiz.
The man known as "Big Papi" throughout the baseball world appeared to wilt under those expectations. It could have been a prolonged slump, or maybe he felt the pressure and pressed too hard. Whatever the reason, he failed to hit his first home run until May 20, and his next until June 6. Some folks speculated he may have been on the "juice" and gave it up in the wake of more vigilant testing and enforcement. Others suggested it was a case of "Father Time" catching up with our favorite slugger.
No matter the theory, the widespread reaction in the Nation was that Papi should be traded, or that the front office should at least bring in reinforcements.
Some of us, or actually, very few argued that the Red Sox should stay the course with the gregarious slugger from the Dominican Republic. Theo Epstein and Co. stuck with Ortiz, and he responded with an outstanding second half. He hit seven homers in each month from June to August. He only hit six in September. Despite a dismal start to his early-season production, he managed to drive in 99 runs.
At the end of the year he promised he would recommit himself to his conditioning.
Red Sox Nation got a firsthand look at Big Papi this morning and learned that he had honored his promise. He arrived at camp sporting his trademark facial hair, looking trim and fit. As always, he sat down with the media after getting settled in.
In light of all of the criticism and speculation he endured last season, it would've been understandable if was aloof, but that is not his nature. Today, he was just David being David.
Of his newer, leaner, fitter physique, he quipped, “You should see me naked.”
About the upcoming 2010 campaign, he said, "I’m very excited about this season. I’m positive. My focus right now is to do some damage.”
Hopefully, that excitement will translate into an increase in run production. After losing Jason Bay in the offseason to free agency, the Red Sox will need him to return to his 2006-2007 form. Remember, this is the guy who said the team needed to add a slugger before Bay even signed with the Mets.
Hoping to get off to a much better start this year, he added, “Hopefully everything will start differently. I’m not a beginning guy, I’ll tell you that right now. I’m an end of the season guy pretty much my whole career. People gave up on me too early last year. They started talking about my age and all that kind of stuff.”
He was understandably proud of the way he rebounded in the second half. Asked how he was able to endure and stay focused, he responded, “I just stayed strong and didn’t pay attention to all the negativity that sometimes people bring around. I just stuck with what I have and thanks to God, I had a whole lot of teammates that had my back when I was really struggling. There were a few pieces I put together and came around. I definitely know that bouncing back like I did last year gave me more confidence and makes me stronger for this year.”
Papi says he doesn’t think he has anything to prove as a new season gets underway, “I know myself, I believe in myself. I have done it tons of times. For me, to do it, and get it done once again, it’s not a surprise. All of you guys know me, all of you guys know what I’m capable to do […] People just struggle sometimes.”
“My focus right now is to do some damage,” he added.
He’s entering the final year of his contract with a $12.5 million club option for next year. He’s not sure what the future holds, but it seems likely the team will pick up the option if he rebounds nicely: “This is a game that has a lot of opportunities. This is a ballclub that I carry with me as long as I’ve been here and I keep on telling you guys that I would like to see my career [come to an end with] this ballclub […] I know I’m an employee here. It doesn’t matter how things are going, I always try my best. This is just another year, just like the others, I’m going to try my best and [if I have to] I’ll move on.”