FORT MYERS, Fla. — Once more around the block with David Ortiz, then the retirement papers take effect after the 2016 season and it's off to Legendville. What a ride it's been, fabulous and funny, dramatic and dynamic.
The Minnesota Twins acquired him in September 1996, literally as a player to be named later for third baseman Dave Hollins.
Two secrets, from a guy who was covering the Twins as a beat man in those days for the St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press:
One, David Ortiz cries real tears. One of my most vivid memories, still, is March 29, 1999, when he was one of the last players cut by the Twins during spring training that year. Long before he became Big Papi, a disappointed and angry Ortiz disappeared into a back room of the spring clubhouse, alone, sobbing.
Two, David Ortiz has never changed. The jovial, outsized personality he is today, he was back then. Only difference is, though sometimes it seems the opposite, you don't become a legend overnight...
A Player to be Named Later
David Hollins, Phillies scout, former first/third baseman 1990-2002: My kids and people back home bring it up. They think it's funny that I was the guy traded for him. I'm amused by it.
A.J. Pierzynski, Braves catcher, Twins teammate 1998-2002: I played against him when he was with the Mariners in the [Class A] Midwest League. He was David Arias. I remember we traded for him and we got David Arias, but when he showed up in the spring he was David Ortiz. I was like, "Wait a minute! Did we trade for the wrong guy?"
David Ortiz, Red Sox DH: That is my mother's last name, but thing is, they got it wrong from the get-go. And then I gotta fix it because they normally call you by your dad's last name, but I'm David America Ortiz Arias. There was nothing wrong, but they started calling me David Arias instead of David Ortiz.
LaTroy Hawkins, former pitcher, Twins teammate 1997-2002: He got traded from Seattle and when he got [to Minnesota], we all went out to dinner. I guess he wanted to order a drink and the lady asked for an ID and he pulled out, like, five different IDs. It was like, "Dude, what are you trying to do?" He was like, "Don't worry about it. Don't worry about it."
Jacque Jones, Nationals assistant hitting coach, Twins teammate 1999-2002: His English wasn't very good, so some things he said were more funny than he meant them to be. I remember one night he fouled a ball off of his foot in the batter's box. He's jumping around, falls down and the trainer comes out. "Dude, what's wrong? You OK?" And he says, "I fouled a ball off of my f--king finger!" And the trainer goes, "Finger?" And he says, "Yeah, yeah, my finger right here. My big finger." The trainer says, "That's your toe!" He comes back to the dugout, and everyone is cracking up. It was hilarious.
David Ortiz: I was a couple years in the country. For all of us coming from a different place, it's a learning process. I remember when that happened I was just hurting. I didn't know what to say. I was in pain. I used to let the ball get too deep [at the plate] and foul balls off of my feet all the time, off my toes. And at same time, I was learning how to speak the language. It was crazy, but it was funny.
A.J. Pierzynski: In A-ball, we used to take grounders at first base every day. We'd bet a Coke on who missed the most grounders. He would get so mad when he had to get me a Coke out of the fridge.
David Ortiz: [Laughing] That's a lie. Once in a while, he would win. But he knows I've got the hands. It was fun. We have a great time.
After being cut that spring, once the tears dried, Ortiz spent almost all of 1999 at Triple-A Salt Lake. He wasn't called back to the majors until that September...
Jacque Jones: I just remember him not being happy about it, him pressing and getting off to a slow start. He righted the ship and eventually went back up there. In 2000 he had a decent year [.282, 10 homers, 63 RBI] and then hit some homers the next couple of years [38 in '01-'02 combined for the Twins], and then it was either sign him back for a couple of million, I guess it was at the time, or sign Doug Mientkiewicz and Matt LeCroy, and that's what they did. Then he went to Boston, didn't start off too hot and almost got released there. Seems like he's been hot ever since.
David Ortiz: I knew I belonged in the big leagues. But you know how the Twins used to be. I think the way they used to make decisions was wrong, but you can't complain to Tom Kelly about anything because he was the one who ran the show. It was a take-it-or-leave-it situation. I just went down to Triple-A and did what I was supposed to do.
Tom Kelly, Twins manager 1986-2001: He was green. Obviously, you knew he had power, that's an understatement. But the biggest problem for David, the first few years here he got hurt. A hamate bone. A knee. He was having trouble getting some consistency going.
He used to get mad because I used to holler at him, "Left field!" It was always pull, pull, pull with him. And eventually, he figured all that out. But the day in Kansas City when he broke the hamate, he hit a home run as good as you can hit it. You go, "Oh my God." Then he comes back and he was shaking his hand. He took his next at-bat and hit another home run. It was just monstrous. And then he was shaking his hand again, and the next at-bat he couldn't swing. He was out for however long it was and started over again. He was just starting to get it, and then he got derailed again.
Ortiz was part of a close group of core prospects in those years with the Twins, guys such as LaTroy Hawkins, Eddie Guardado, Corey Koskie, Doug Mientkiewicz, Matt Lawton and others who came of age together. They remain close today...
Eddie Guardado, former closer, Twins teammate 1997-2002: Me and Hawk [LaTroy Hawkins] were by our lockers in the Metrodome. You know how David has two left feet, right? He comes up one day and says, "You got any extra shoes I can wear? Mine are all messed up." Spikes. I said, "I got a [protective] pitching toe on my spikes. What size are you, anyway?" And he says, "What size are you?" I go, "I'm a 10 ½ right now." He goes, "Damn—I wear from nine to 11." No wonder why he's got two left knees! He wore any size.
Torii Hunter, former outfielder, Twins teammate 1997-2002: One of the funniest things was when Corey Koskie put peanut butter in his underwear during a game in spring training. David was messing with him all day, so Corey put peanut butter in his tighty-whities. David took a shower after the game, put his clothes on and he never knew there was peanut butter in there. There was ice in the pockets to distract him. He took five steps to the door and realized something's not right. He turned around and started screaming. The whole team started laughing. I was in tears. David had to take it all off and take a shower again. He took it like a champ.
David Ortiz: [Laughing] Oh my God, I couldn't believe they brought that in. Man, they used to do everything. We used to do a lot of crazy things. Corey Koskie. It was fun, man. We were kids.
The card games on the team bus and charters remain legendary...
Eddie Guardado: He was a cheater, dude. A cheater! You're talking about big money in there. And we're not making big money. So that was important. We watched him with the cards playing poker. David Ortiz always had his hand a certain way on the cards, and we used to watch him. I remember this clearly. One day I [wasn't] even worried about what I was doing. He needed another card, the pot's 300-some dollars or whatever it might have been. I'm watching, he says, "I need this card, I need this card." He gets a queen from the bottom of the deck. I'm like, "Really?" We all called him out. We said, "You're cheating, dude!" And he's like, "Aw, you got me!"
LaTroy Hawkins: All those guys said they took a pay cut when he went to Boston.
Eddie Guardado: Absolutely. That put a dent in my pocket.
David Ortiz: [Still laughing] Well, I was a really bad card player, so that's why I don't play cards anymore. I quit playing cards, I would say, since I first got to Boston. Because I'm terrible. I'm not good at it. They were right about that.
Besides, his future was in long balls, not poker...
Tom Kelly: He kept working at first base, trying to be a total complete player. I always felt he was OK for a day or two over there. I don't know if you wanted to live with it on a consistent basis. But he could go over there and pick you up for a day if you got stuck. We just couldn't get that consistency from him. We had a hard time putting it together for a period of time.
David Ortiz: The way they did me over there I never understood what was going on. It seemed like they didn't know what to do with me. In 2002, when they let me go, I hit 20 homers and had 75 RBI and I barely played. I got  at-bats. So they made the poor decision of releasing me. They didn't even trade me. They didn't even let me be a free agent after the season.
Terry Ryan, Twins general manager 1994-2007, 2011-present: I made a mistake. I certainly regret that we haven't benefited from all that he can bring to a ballclub and to an organization, and I admire his career. I respect a lot of the things that he's done with his wife and his family, the charities. It'll be interesting to see as he goes through the schedule here how everyone responds to him because he's one of the most popular guys, not only fan-wise but I think player-wise. He's a lot like Kirby Puckett in that wherever he goes, people want to introduce themselves and talk.
Squeezed by roster and financial decisions, the Twins released Ortiz on Dec. 16, 2002. He was on the market for more than a month until the Red Sox signed him on Jan. 22, 2003...
David Ortiz: I got lucky that I bumped into Pedro Martinez in a restaurant in the Dominican Republic. We talked, he asked me how things were going and I said, "I just got released by Minnesota a couple of days ago." And he was like, "What? They must be out of their mind. You're the best hitter they've got. I'm going to call the Red Sox right now." He called the Red Sox, and two days later the Red Sox hired me. The rest is history.
Theo Epstein, Cubs general manager; Red Sox GM 2002-11: I had been talking to Terry Ryan about the possibility of trading for him earlier in that offseason. They asked for a pretty good prospect, and it started to have the feel that maybe if he couldn't trade him that David was going to end up on release waivers rather than getting tendered a contract. So I wasn't surprised to see him on waivers.
We were just lucky, because that offseason one main focus for us was to add a couple of bats at the corner spots. We didn't have any money to spend. We wanted to buy low on a number of players and let them fight it out. Through volume, we thought we'd get some quality players and add depth to the lineup. So we traded for Jeremy Giambi. We claimed Kevin Millar off of release waivers and signed him to a two-year deal to keep him from going to Japan. We signed Bill Mueller to a two-year contract coming off the broken knee. And David, I was talking to his agent all offseason.
We went through a complicated process to sign him. It involved Dave Jauss [currently on the Pittsburgh Pirates coaching staff], who was managing the Licey team in the Dominican and worked for us. We had Dave put him through a workout at first base when David was the best player on the legendary Escogido team. Those are the two big rivals down there. It would be the equivalent of Joe Girardi working out Dustin Pedroia or something.
And then Pedro Martinez called and lobbied for David and his character in the clubhouse. We finally were able to get something done in January, maybe a million and a quarter.
By no stretch of the imagination did we think we were getting Big Papi. We signed David Ortiz and we ended up getting Big Papi.
The Rise of Big Papi
David Ortiz: I think it was Jerry Remy [Red Sox TV analyst] who first called me "Big Papi" because I used to call everybody Papi because I'm bad at remembering people's names.
Bronson Arroyo, Nationals pitcher, Red Sox teammate 2003-05: What I love about David is sometimes what you see with guys in the media and what you see personally is the opposite. David is a big teddy bear and always has been. That big laugh. He came to the park every day, he didn't judge. Watching him turn into Big Papi was pretty amazing.
Doug Mientkiewicz, former first baseman 1998-2009; Twins teammate 1998-2002, Red Sox teammate '04: His first year in Boston, he's playing a spring training game [at the Twins complex]. We knew he was on the trip, we ran over during the game and stole his clothes and put a small convict suit in his locker, all orange. He came in our clubhouse wearing it, still wet from the shower, and gave that face: "Come on, man." When he came in with the jumpsuit on, bright orange Fort Myers prison outfit, that was just priceless. He came over in shower shoes and wearing that because he knew we had his clothes. We cried laughing.
Theo Epstein: He got off to a slow start because we were mixing the rotation of the guys and he wasn't playing every day through April and May. Giambi was playing a lot, Millar was playing, Bill Mueller was playing. At the end of April, David sent his agent to meet with me, saying he loves it here, he appreciates the opportunity, but he feels like he needs to play every day, so can you please trade him? I'll never forget, it was in the players' parking lot in Fenway Park. I told the agent, "Hey, we're working on a trade that should free up playing time for David." And we ended up trading Shea Hillenbrand to the Diamondbacks for Byung-Hyun Kim. That opened up a lot of DH at-bats for David.
The Sox traded Hillenbrand to Arizona on May 29, 2003. To that point in the season, Ortiz had two home runs...
Theo Epstein: The players in the clubhouse were calling him Juan Pierre [using the slap-hitting former Marlin to tease Ortiz and his paucity of power to that point]. That was his nickname. And then he hit [21 home runs] in the second half of the season and went into the postseason, and he was Big Papi from then on.
Tom Kelly: I think when he finally got to Boston and didn't get signed until the spring, I think he probably realized that maybe I've got to do something or I'm going to be out of the game. Who knows? But he started hitting that Monster over there, started whacking it over that fence and off of that wall, boom, boom, and his whole game turned.
David Ortiz: My first year I was hitting behind Manny Ramirez. They were having a hard time finding someone to hit behind Manny, and I came in and hit really well. And then we almost go to the World Series, and the following year we won the World Series. [That] was when people really got to know me.
That 2004 World Series run, of course, one of the most dramatic in baseball history, was fueled by Boston's stunning comeback in the ALCS. Down 3-0 to the New York Yankees, following Dave Roberts' iconic stolen base in the ninth inning, Boston won Game 4 on Ortiz's two-run, walk-off homer in the 12th inning. Then, in Game 5 in Boston, Ortiz battled Yankees reliever Esteban Loaiza in a 10-pitch at-bat that ended with another Big Papi walk-off hit, a single in the 14th inning...
Tim Wakefield, former pitcher, 1992-2011; Red Sox teammate 2003-11: That's when David Ortiz became Big Papi. The amount of clutch hits he got in the '04 postseason was incredible. We were all in survival mode. It was like you could feel the momentum switch to our favor. We were getting killed.
Doug Mientkiewicz: Craziness. He made Manny look mortal. Everything we needed to get done, he did. Seemed like every time we needed a big hit, he was up. Not taking anything away from Manny because he's one of the best right-handed hitters ever to play. But he's hitting singles and David's hitting homers and doubles. I was on deck during the Loaiza at-bat, watching him foul balls off and foul balls off and finally fight one off to center. You kept thinking, "We can't keep leaving it up to him. He can't keep doing it every night." And he did.
Larry Bowa, Phillies coach; Yankees coach 2006-07: I compare him to a Derek Jeter. Jeter wasn't a home run hitter, but they weren't afraid of the moment. They could have failed on Monday with the bases loaded, and on Tuesday they wanted to be up with the bases loaded.
Theo Epstein: What he did in the Yankees series was as transformative a performance as I think you can have in baseball over a couple of days. No one in baseball wins a game single-handedly—maybe a dominant starting pitcher on a single day—but we were so down and out and he was so feared in that lineup, yet they still couldn't avoid him enough. We were so desperate for another breath. We just wanted to keep surviving, and it was David who kept delivering to give us that extra breath. It almost felt like we rode to New York single-handedly on his shoulders when we went back there for Game 6.
He was drained emotionally because he was carrying us so much. He's very serious about hitting and about baseball. He takes things to heart, and that kind of responsibility of being the guy looked to come through for the big hit as a player relatively new in the spotlight, it took a toll on him. I remember he was drained by the time we got to New York, but he kept delivering time and time again, seemingly beyond belief.
Jonathan Papelbon, Nationals pitcher; Red Sox teammate, 2005-11: You hear all the stories about how clutch he was, you saw how clutch he was, and then I walk in and see him and my first reaction was, "Man, this dude don't know how to dress. This dude is wearing fake jewelry." I couldn't believe it. So over the years, as I got to know him a little bit more, I helped him out with his style. I showed him how to be a little more of a baller. When you're a baller on the field, you've gotta dress like a baller off the field. I'll take credit for that.
David Ortiz: [Laughing uproariously] That's a lie. What a lying bastard. Hey, tell that clown that I was here way before him. That guy is like a brother to me. That's my boy. But he's always dropping jokes like that. I've always been clean.
Jonathan Papelbon: There wasn't a dinner we went out to, there wasn't a night when me and Ashley [Papelbon's wife] and him and Tiffany [Ortiz's wife] went out that he didn't take care of dinner. He was someone who always took care of the younger guys. And it didn't matter if it was a young guy trying to take his job. He always took care of the underdog. Through all of his charity work, through all of the things he's done, he's always taken care of the underdog.
In 2007, the Red Sox won again, sweeping the Colorado Rockies in the World Series as Papelbon's Riverdance became the thing to do in Boston...
Jonathan Papelbon: I tried to teach him that Riverdance, but David don't dance. He boogies, know what I mean? I tried to teach him a few things when I was there.
David Ortiz: Well, you don't have to move much [when you boogie]. You don't have to go crazy with your feet. You just move your hips.
Perhaps the only blemish on Ortiz's career came in 2009, when a report leaked that he had failed a test for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003, the year before new PED rules went into effect in the game. He called a press conference in New York and aggressively defended himself...
David Ortiz: I always looked at it as a setup, because you can just point fingers at someone without any proof. Here I am playing baseball and doing my thing and, what, 11, 12 years later negative comments come out. I've never gotten into trouble for anything.
You're not going to make everyone happy. That's basically the way I look at life in general. If you want to put attention to that, it's up to you. If you want to put attention to things I have done in my career, especially in the steroid era when we all are getting drug-tested...there's not one player who has had more drug tests than myself. And I've never failed one [since current rules were put in place in 2004]. ... Everything today is based on how much money I can make. And yes, whoever [leaked] that, they probably got their piece of cake. But I'm proving you wrong. Bro, if you look at the real picture, what I have done in my career, looking at that issue where there was no reality involved with it, it's up to you whether you want to believe that.
Terry Francona, Red Sox manager, 2004-11: I remember talking to him. I said, "Hey, tell me about this." He walked me through it. I remember when he went to do the press conference in New York, I stood behind him. Because even though he speaks good English, it's his second language, and that's not an easy thing to do. I was proud of the way he stood up there. Things that are done behind closed doors, there's a reason the doors are closed, but I have a lot of faith in David, and that's never wavered. I had some questions for him and he answered them. Just things I wanted to ask him, and my faith in him never wavered.
From All-Star to Legend
In the Red Sox's first game at Fenway Park after the Boston Marathon bombing (played Saturday, April 20, 2013), Ortiz gave an emotional speech to a sold-out crowd, punctuating his remarks by saying, "This is our f--king city."
Clay Buchholz, Red Sox starter 2007-present: The best part about it was, it was on live television and for him to say a curse word like he said and to still feel as heartfelt as anything that has ever been said, it was pretty inspiring knowing that everybody understood what he was talking about and that's the way he responded to it and that's how he could express what he felt and how strongly he feels about the city of Boston. It gives me chills, still, thinking about it now.
(Warning: video contains profanity.)
David Ortiz: I was angry, and when you're angry, anything can come out. When I was talking like that, I was speaking just like any other citizen. I guarantee you everybody on that field felt the same way. Because there's no way, there's no way when people are trying to help people you come in and boom, damage that. I was so angry. I didn't plan on saying what I said. It just came out because that's how I feel. They told me a couple of minutes before, we want you to go say something to the fans so they can feel supported. I was in Boston the whole time when that was happening. And I was angry. And the bad word comes out, and I still didn't get any fine or suspension because that's how everyone felt. There was a lot of tension, a lot of bad things running around. I guess I did the right thing.
Clay Buchholz: I actually pitched that game. I was warming up. I was listening to it. It was crazy, a pretty surreal moment given what went down and how it happened. Even being, in my mind, a first-ballot Hall of Famer, he's about as down to earth as it gets.
Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox second baseman 2006-present: I just caught a first pitch and I couldn't hear him because I was talking to some people. I didn't find out what he said until after the game. He said what everyone was feeling, but people didn't say that. A lot of people wouldn't have the nerve to say that, but he did. That was pretty special.
John Farrell, Red Sox manager 2013-present: When someone is speaking to the magnitude and importance in their second language and you understand the importance of the moment, when you step back, only David Ortiz could say what he said. Without any FCC penalty or anything. He's unique, and one of the very few superstar athletes that transcends all walks of life.
At the other end of a season that started with tragedy came another magical October. The Sox began the postseason by beating Tampa Bay in the first round of the playoffs, a series that saw a dust-up between Ortiz and then-Rays ace David Price that included Price's postgame Twitter rant...
Jake Peavy, Red Sox teammate 2013-2014: David Price had our number that year, really gave it to us. In Game 2 of the ALDS, David [Ortiz] comes in dressed like he was getting ready to have dinner with the Pope. Some of the guys gave him a hard time about it: "It wasn't travel day; we're going to travel tomorrow." David simply responds, "You guys think I'm dressed like this for travel? Come on. I've been in the league however many years." "So what are you dressed like that for?" "My press conference," he says. And he hit two home runs off of David Price, came in and put that suit on and [went to] the press conference looking very suave.
Then the Sox beat Detroit in the ALCS, ignited by Ortiz's game-tying Game 2 grand slam that sent his former teammate Torii Hunter tumbling over the wall...
Torii Hunter: In those [pregame scouting] meetings, I was standing up saying, "Don't pitch to David. He knows what's coming. We know his history of clutch hits. If we can stay away from David Ortiz, we've got a good chance." So for some reason, we had a guy throw the ball right down the middle. When he hit it, it was in the lights in right field. I sprinted to the wall with my head down, looked up and when I saw the ball, I saw it late. I jumped up and left my body exposed trying to make the catch. I knew I was in no-go zone. You can't go after the ball after a certain point in Fenway Park or you're going to go flipping over the wall. But I didn't care. It's the playoffs—I've gotta get to the World Series. I went over the wall, flipped, got a concussion, shoulder problems and it took me a year to recover. ...
We've never talked about it. We've hung out several times since then and never brought it up. We don't talk about it. We talk about life. He's my boy. There's more to it than just the game.
John Farrell: Off the field, that same postseason, [David] had a gathering in his home after every series. It was his way of opening up himself, wanting to take care of so many around him, and I think that's the way he's lived his life. He's had such an impact on so many people, whether it's here, in his home country in the Dominican, he's thoughtful in trying to help so many of those around him.
Jake Peavy: I can vividly remember laying on a recliner in David Ortiz's basement watching Tampa Bay beat out Cleveland [for the AL wild-card spot]. Jonny Gomes, bless him, [was] standing in front of that TV waving on Tampa Bay, like, "Bring it on." The whole team was there. Wives, families, children. It just kept us together.
The Sox beat the St. Louis Cardinals in six games in the World Series with Ortiz being named the MVP. He hit .688/.760/1.188 with two homers and six RBI and started at first base in all three games in St. Louis...
Mike Matheny, Cardinals manager 2012-present: He was as hot as any player we've seen. Reminded us of Carlos Beltran against us in 2004 when he was with Houston before he moved over to the Mets. One player can make that big a difference. We tried to figure out how to pitch around him, but we got into situations where we couldn't and he made us pay.
Dustin Pedroia: Obviously, when he's on a roll like that, you don't talk offense with him. You just leave him alone. But I had to worry about him playing defense next to me. My job was to protect him, take care of him and take the pressure off of him there. He's got great hands. He can play first.
Jake Peavy: In Game 4, he comes off the field playing first base and has a team meeting in the dugout. He realized we were playing maybe a little differently than we had. We were down two games to one at that time, and we were down in Game 4. It was the right spot, and he was the right man to do that. He was telling us to relax, quit pressing. The whole team was huddled up around him in the dugout. That doesn't happen except in special moments.
Mike Matheny: Some guys get onto that bigger stage...it's all a big stage here, but when he got to Boston, there's a whole lot more attention that can come, and that either makes guys sink or swim. And he's a guy that took off swimming.
David Ortiz: I believe in God. And he picked us at the right time to do the right thing. I believe in that. I believe you are here for a reason, you are committed to something and when that time comes, it's your time to shine, to do the right thing, to get it done.
Ortiz begins this, his final season, with 503 career homers (27th all-time, third among active players), 1,641 RBI (30th-all time, third among active players) and a .284/.378/.547 slash line. He is a nine-time All-Star and, in Boston's 2013 mayoral race, finished third behind Marty Walsh and John R. Connolly by receiving the highest total of write-in votes...
David Ortiz: I never take for granted the way things went down [in Minnesota], because it was the base of what I am right now. I learned one thing in Minnesota, and it was you've gotta come in every day and give everything you have. I learned they didn't hand things to no one. I keep that for myself, you know what I mean? There was a lot of positive that I learned and still put it in play today. And I developed lifelong friends.
[But] Boston has embraced me, and I really appreciate that. I feel sometimes like I came to the big leagues once I started playing in Boston.
Tim Wakefield: Oh my God. He's the face of the franchise. And he has been for many, many years. Probably since he became Big Papi. He's carried the torch well. He means as much as Tom Brady means to the city of Boston, what Larry Bird meant to the city of Boston. He is the elite of the elite athletes to ever step foot in the city of Boston. And he's represented the city very well.
Joe Girardi, Yankees manager 2008-present: He's been a great, great player for a long, long time, and I know there's always talk about do you get rid of the DH. Do you keep the DH? Do you put it in both leagues? He's the reason you need to have it. Because a player who has that type of impact on the game, you can get him out there every day when he gets older because he can DH. I think he's been a good ambassador for the game. He loves the game, he loves to play, he loves to shine in the big moments and he has the ability to do that.
A.J. Pierzynski: He's the one guy on the team who, when he hits, he talks constantly. He asks about your mom, your family, everything. He asks how they're doing. Then he says mean things about them later in the game. He's the one guy I look forward to seeing hit.
David Price, Red Sox pitcher; Rays pitcher 2008-14; Tigers pitcher 2014-15; Blue Jays pitcher 2015: My mom and dad, he's one of their favorite players. Before [I signed in Boston], my dad was like, "You better not hit You Know Who." I was like, "Dad, stop." My mom said it, too. My dad called me before every start, [shot] me a message or [gave] me a call.
I remember in 2010 or 2011, we're at Tropicana Field and my parents are standing there in the tunnel outside the clubhouses, and my dad talks to him and he gives my dad his cellphone number, says text me if you need anything. That blew my dad away. It brings my dad to tears. Big Papi is just a normal dude like anybody else. To me, that's what is so special about him.
It became a running thing in the Price household over the next few years, and now, surely, Price's father is happy to see his son on the same team as Big Papi.
As impressed as teammates are with Ortiz on the field, they are in awe of his charitable work away from the ballpark...
Tim Wakefield: I've been involved in most of his golf tournaments in the Dominican Republic and to see what he gives back. ... It's a party, but the serious side of it is he's saving lives. He was head of getting it together with Massachusetts General Hospital to fix the degenerative heart problems of kids in the Dominican Republic. He's saving kids' lives. It's amazing.
Dustin Pedroia: We went [to the Dominican Republic] in 2010. I went with Andre Ethier, whose son fell down some stairs and dislocated his elbow. I think he was four. We had to take him to the hospital. David got everything set up, arranged. Just the way he treats everybody. Doesn't matter who you are.
Jake Peavy: He's just got a spirit about him that's larger than life. That whole Babe Ruth aura. It all hasn't been roses. It's been ups and down. But he has been a tremendous, tremendous ambassador for the game.
Reggie Jackson, Hall of Famer (1993): Here's a guy who was well liked by everybody, who spoke for the team at times and said the things that the club needed said. Not necessarily what they wanted to hear but what needed to be said. I recognize him as a guy who was maybe the best clutch player of his era.
Paul Molitor, Twins manager 2015-present; Hall of Famer (2004): I think about a guy who, in one of the more historical organizations in our game, has a chance to leave the game as one of the most popular players in its long history. You talk about Carl Yastrzemski and some other people, but David Ortiz went to a Boston organization starved for championships and somehow over a period of 10 years put three World Series championships in the front office. And I don't know how many of them they would have won without him.
Theo Epstein: He's probably the single person most identifiable with this decade-plus run of success the Red Sox have had. He got there in '03 when we got five outs from the World Series, and then he was right in the middle of it when we won it the next year, and he's still there trucking along after all these years.
If the face of your franchise is a happy, smiling stud in the middle of your order for 10-plus years, that's a really good thing to have. He's really helped transform that franchise. He definitely did more for us than we did for him.
David Ortiz: I have made a lot of friends in the game. And additionally, I have touched a lot of souls, a lot of people in a good way. That's how I would like to be remembered. As a person people feel comfortable around. Even being who I am.
I see a lot of athletes in a lot of sports where, when they are good, they act like it. Bro, you know, God gave you the gift to be good. That doesn't mean you've got to act like Superman, or untouchable. I think that the more humble you keep it, the more people appreciate what you do and want to be around you. ... That has been me since day one, since I played for the Minnesota Twins. Everybody in the clubhouse liked me, everybody in the clubhouse wanted to be around me. It's still the same here. You can see how even the younger players come around and talk to me like we've been together for the past 20 years. That makes me feel good.
Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.
Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball.