BOSTON — It can be intimidating for young players to walk into a new clubhouse and meet one of the biggest stars in Major League Baseball, but David Ortiz always made sure that wasn’t the case.
The Red Sox designated hitter will play in his final regular-season game Sunday, and he’s leaving behind teammates who’ll miss his presence dearly. And part of the reason for that is because he made sure they felt like a part of the Red Sox from the first time they met.
“The first time I came to the club,” center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. said of when he met Ortiz. “It would’ve been 2013, my first big league spring training, just meeting everybody there. At that particular point, you’re a rookie, so you’re just kind of just watching and listening, not really going out of your way to speak to many people. But he definitely made sure he met you. He was the guy who made sure he took care of the young guys. And I think that really meant a lot to us.”
Mookie Betts echoed Bradley’s sentiment, saying Ortiz always “makes everybody feel like they know him personally,” even if they don’t. And for the 23-year-old right fielder, he was even a little starstruck when he met Ortiz.
“I was just like, ‘Wow,’” Betts said. “I played with him on video games and now I’m here with him. It’s pretty cool just to be there with him.”
But not everyone was sure about how Ortiz would treat them off the bat.
Ortiz and starter David Price famously — or perhaps infamously — feuded during the 2014 season, when Price still was with the Tampa Bay Rays. But when Price became Big Papi’s teammate as a free agent this offseason, he met a different Ortiz.
“He embraced me,” Price said. “That was big for me. I didn’t want to be a distraction or anything along those lines, especially for his last season. And just the way he treated me, I definitely appreciated that.”
Price went on to say that Ortiz is a “special person” because his stature in the game doesn’t affect the way he interacts with people around the league.
“Everybody obviously respects the player that he is, but everybody doesn’t get to see the person that he is,” Price said. “Everything that you see him doing out there on that field, he’s always having fun and he treats everybody the same. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got 10 days in the big leagues or 10 years. He treats everybody the same, and I think everybody really appreciates that.”
And of all the guys in Boston’s clubhouse, only a handful of them know Ortiz as well as Clay Buchholz does. The right-hander was drafted by the Red Sox and made his big league debut in 2007, so he’s become very close with Ortiz through the years.
“I think it was ‘06 in spring training, and I came up and threw a game,” Buchholz said of his first encounter with the retiring slugger. “It was the last game of spring training against Tampa, and obviously knowing who he was and watching him growing up, I was a little intimidated at first. But he walked up to me and gave me a hug and said welcome to the team, and I saw he had a yellow Lamborghini that I stopped and looked at for a long time.
“He’s somebody that has one of the biggest hearts that I’ve ever been around. An easy guy to talk to, easy guy to get along with. A really good baseball player, really good person, and since then, both of my daughters, he’s like their godfather. They love him. It’s going to be sad to see him go and sad not to see him around. I’m blessed and lucky that I’ve been able to be around and see what he’s done over the last nine years.”
Guys like Buchholz and second baseman Dustin Pedroia certainly will have to step up as the veterans in charge once 2017 rolls around, but the pitcher said there still will be a hole in the clubhouse when Ortiz is gone.
“Any time that you lose somebody of his stature, I don’t think that you can replace that,” Buchholz said. “But we definitely have a lot of guys in here that know how to play the game and go about the game in the right way, and I think that we learned a lot of that from him, so we can take what we’ve learned and use it to the best of our abilities, but I don’t think there’s anybody in there that’s going to say anything different. There’s no chance you can replace somebody like David Ortiz.”
Thumbnail photo via Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Images