The beloved David Ortiz, affectionately known to Bostonians as Big Papi, did not begin his career as smoothly as one would expect.
Before wearing a Red Sox uniform, Ortiz played for parts of six seasons with the Minnesota Twins and recalled the limits of his opportunities to become the clutch hitter he was destined to become.
“I was hitting 30 homers in the minor leagues, but when I got to the big leagues, every time I was swinging hard, I had the manager [Tom Kelly] screaming at me from the bench, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ ” Ortiz recalled.
“They even had me out on the field doing early work hitting line drives over the shortstop’s head and [stuff] like that. I’m like, ‘OK, I guess for me to play at this level with this organization I’ve got to approach the game the way they want me to.’
So, after being released by the Twins the Red Sox scooped up Ortiz for a measly $1.25 million (compared to what he makes now).
Playing for the Red Sox inspired Papi to become the monster hitter Red Sox fans all know and love.
In a spring training game against the Twins, Papi remembers how hard he worked at moving runners into scoring position. After going back to the dugout, Ortiz was met with no congratulations or high-fives.
Instead, manager Grady Little said, “‘Next time, I’m not expecting you to move him over. I’m expecting you to bring him in.’
“When he said that to me, he had no idea of the monster that he woke up. He woke up that monster in me that I knew I could be,” said Papi.
“But when I played for the Twins, they basically never allowed me to be that. They never let that monster in Minnesota blow up. They were too controlling.”
Ortiz had to be patient to finally gain the playing time he deserved in Boston. In his initial years, he played with many talented players that took up many of the infield positions. He also experienced a brief power outage as he only managed four home runs through the end of June.
In 2003, it seemed improbable that Ortiz would even hit 500 homers. He had only managed 58 to that point. Only one member of the other 26 who have reached the 500 home run club made it through his age 26 season with fewer than 100 homers.
“I didn’t know that I would reach 500,” said Ortiz. “[But] I’ve been a good hitter since I was a kid. Every league I played, I got it done.
“It was just a matter of time, making adjustments as time goes by, and learning. That’s all you do here: You learn, you learn, you learn, and you go from there.”
Luckily for Red Sox fans, Ortiz kept hammering away at the 500 homer milestone and yesterday capped off a great career. And that career is still not over yet.