David Ortiz Memories: Will Middlebrooks Recalls Big Papi Taking Him Under Wing

'He was like a mythical creature'

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July 22, 2022

This is part of a series in which NESN personalities share their favorite memory of David Ortiz, as they had an up-close view of his career either as a teammate or a member of the media. You can find all of NESN.com’s coverage as Ortiz goes into the Hall of Fame here.

In August of 2012, Will Middlebrooks suffered the unfortunate fate of breaking his wrist, which brought his rookie season with the Boston Red Sox to a premature end.

But a broken wrist gave the then 23-year-old Middlebrooks another opportunity, one with David Ortiz, who was rehabbing an Achilles injury at the time.

“The team took a West Coast trip and we stayed back,” Middlebrooks said. “He was just like, ‘Hey, you’re going to hang with me this whole time, like the whole week we’re going to hang out every day. We’re going to talk hitting, we’re going to dinner, we’re this and that.’

“From the day I got to the big leagues he took me under his wing and just showed me the ways on and off the field. What to wear. What not to wear. … He taught me how to be a professional.”

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Middlebrooks said Ortiz’s treatment toward him wasn’t unique, as the Red Sox legend displayed his leadership routinely by assisting the younger players on the team.

And while Ortiz had this aurora around him for all that he had accomplished in a Red Sox uniform, Middlebrooks, who is in his first season as a NESN pregame and postgame analyst, remembered how Big Papi made him feel at ease when they first met.

“That first spring training, obviously, starstruck, it’s David Ortiz. He’s a rock star,” Middlebrooks said. “But he very quickly makes you lose that because he talks to you like you’re just one of the guys.”

Coming up through Boston’s farm system, Middlebrooks heard stories that added to Ortiz’s lore. By the time Middlebrook’s tenure ended with the Red Sox after three seasons, he had his own tales to tell others.

One of them comes from Game 2 of the 2013 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. After Cardinals starting pitcher Michael Wacha got Ortiz out on a changeup in the second inning, the left-handed slugger plotted his revenge.

“He came into the batting cage and he’s like, ‘If he throws me a changeup again in my next at-bat, I’m going to take him deep,’ ” Middlebrooks recalled. “And it wasn’t just ‘I’m going to take him deep,’ he was like, ‘I’m going hit him out over the Monster.’ “

Ortiz walked in his next at-bat, but in the sixth inning, Middlebrooks remembers Ortiz fouling a first-pitch fastball from Wacha straight back. After fouling off a few more pitches, Ortiz then delivered on what he promised.

“He hangs a changeup, hits it over the Monster. In the World Series,” Middlebrooks said. “I would tell people this story and they’re like, ‘No way.’ “

Moments like that only added to the legend Ortiz cultivated during his Hall of Fame career.

“He was like a mythical creature, he really was,” Middlebrooks said.

Thumbnail photo via Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Images
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