“He’s still injured.”
“He’s coming off steroids.”
“He’s lying to us about his age.”
“He’s nothing without Manny behind him.”
It seemed every writer, radio host, and drunk in Boston had a different excuse for David Ortiz’s massive slump last season. But when it came down to it, nobody could explain why it was that the month of May was winding down, and Big Papi had a goose egg in the HR stats column. The question on everybody’s lips was “Is Ortiz done?”.
Yet, just two seasons before, Papi had put together one of the most impressive hitting seasons of his career. He batted .332, he hit 35 home runs, he had a career high 1.066 OPS. Yes, life was good in 2007, the Sox won the world series and Papi was mashing like he had never mashed before.
But this was 2009, and in this town of “What have you done for me lately?” that championship year had already become a faint memory. So, too, it seemed had become the Papi of old. The Ortiz of today could not turn on the inside fastball. The Ortiz of today waved wildly at offspeed pitches. The Ortiz of today could not hit a home run. Indeed, he had gone 149 at-bats, the longest span of his career without doing so. Suddenly, all of Red Sox Nation found itself worrying that we never again would see the big lovable Dominican throw his hands up and point to the heavens after trotting around the bases.
But then, on May 20th at 8:39 PM on a clear night at Fenway Park in Boston, David Ortiz saw Brett Cecil of the Toronto Blue Jays throw a pitch that he liked. Like the Big Papi of yore, he took a mighty swing and connected with the ball; absolutely crushing it. The moment the bat made that oh-so-sweet sound of solid contact, and the crowd saw the trajectory, they all went wild. Deep into the night it sailed, finally leaving the yard at one of the deepest parts of the park. The fans could not contain themselves. All over Boston people sitting in their living rooms celebrated. All was right in the world again! David Ortiz had hit a home run! Then, a few days later, he hit another. And then another.
He finished the season with a respectable 28 trips around the bases, and 99 runs batted in. Perhaps the most impressive was that he led the American League in home runs following the Allstar break. But he also finished the season batting a decidedly un-Papi-esque .238, the lowest average he’s had since coming to Boston.
The question that everyone wants to know coming into this season is “Which Papi will we get?”. As spring training commenced, so too did the murmurs begin again. Not counting a homerun against Northeastern (no offense, Huskies), Ortiz had gone 1 for 19 with six strikeouts and no RBIs. Then, yesterday afternoon, he reminded us who he was once again. Going 2 for 2 with a home run and a walk against the Orioles, Papi quickly reminded us that this is only spring training and at the same time gave us hope for the season to come.
Will he deliver on his promise? Well, the Nation is certainly hoping. Following an offseason which saw the departure of Jason Bay and the failure of an Adrian Gonzalez trade to materialize, the biggest concern of the Red Sox has become the offense. The fans and media have said that without Bay, Boston now lacks a certain punch in it’s lineup. That big bat who will change the game with one swing. The bat that will singlehandedly carry the team if all else fails. But they have forgotten that that bat used to lie in the hands of David Ortiz. Perhaps, it still does.
Will David Ortiz come through? I believe he will. Why? Well, other than 2009’s promising finish, simply because he always has before. The man once widely recognized as baseball’s best hitter in the clutch has always been there when Boston needed him most. It’s a contract year for Big Papi, so he knows he has to hit or he might not have a place here next season. But Ortiz has always done his best work under pressure. This afterall, is the man with 13 walk-off home runs under his belt. This is the man who almost singlehandedly won the ALCS in 2004 when the Red Sox were down three games to none against the Yankees. He’s used to having his back against the wall. The Fenway Faithful just need to have a little faith in Big Papi.