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Red Sox’s Ortiz: You’ve gotta laugh

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David Ortiz, the hitting machine who last fall helped power the Boston Red Sox to their second World Series championship since the Wilson administration, wasn’t always on top of his game. He’d been stunned when the Minnesota Twins released him in 2002.

“I was released,” he writes in his new memoir. “Seriously, bro. I thought I might get traded or something, but I never thought about getting released.”

It took some lobbying by pitcher Pedro Martinez to get Ortiz to Boston. So, when “Big Papi” got a chance to play, he set about proving his worth. Against stiff competition, Ortiz showed he could put up big numbers and loosen up the head cases in the locker room. Soon, his numbers were so amazing that he’d earned himself a regular spot in the lineup.

A few factors in his success:
  • Freedom to play his own game. Early on, Ortiz assumed he’d be expected to play “small ball” to advance the runners, just as he’d been doing in Minnesota. Instead, his new manager told him to swing away. “I’m so happy, I feel like I could hit the way I wanted,” he says.

  • Happy customers. Only in the Dominican Republic, Ortiz’s homeland, has he seen people as crazy about baseball as Boston fans. “You can feel the energy,” he says. By the end of 2006, the Red Sox had sold out every game for almost four years. That kind of enthusiasm buoys the players and keeps them focused.

  • Winning atmosphere. “One of the bad things about losing is that, after a while, you start to expect it. You start to accept it, too. Your whole mentality changes, and all of a sudden you start going into games with a bad attitude,” Ortiz says. “That’s why it’s so important for the older guys to be positive around the young guys, to keep telling them that they’re good enough, even when they’re struggling.”

  • Swagger. Your competitors can look at you and know if you’re going to put up a fight, Ortiz says. His teammates talked trash and made each other laugh, and it worked: “We felt like we were some bad dudes, bro.” And they were.
—Adapted from Big Papi: My Story of Big Dreams and Big Hits, David Ortiz with Tony Massarotti, St. Martin’s Press.

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