Ortiz sets out for more of same in '07
Sox slugger hopes continued production sparks playoff berth
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Most players get a handshake from the team owner at the beginning of Spring Training. David Ortiz? He got a new truck.
Amid all the fuss and excitement over the arrival of Japanese star Daisuke Matsuzaka, it should not be forgotten that Red Sox Nation remains Big Papi's place.
The superstar slugger arrived in Fort Myers for his physical on Wednesday morning and quickly learned of his new present from principal owner John W. Henry.
"The owners, they gave it to me," said Ortiz of his black Toyota Tundra. "I was like, 'Cool.' It's my first truck ever, a pickup truck. That's what I got for my new year. [I] saw it this morning, but I don't know what kind it is. I'll be rolling in it."
Ortiz has rolled through his first four years in Boston, and there's no reason to expect 2007 to be any different. Ortiz is in his prime, coming off a year in which he belted 54 home runs to set a club record.
It's difficult to find any athlete who is more comfortable in his own skin than Ortiz, the left-handed masher. That's why he keeps his goals for the coming season very simple.
"Just try to stay healthy and keep on rolling," said Ortiz. "That's me. I don't ask for too much. I'm asking the man up there, the Lord, to keep me healthy -- me and my teammates and family. [I want to] just have fun. This is a game. You can't put pressure on yourself."
When the Red Sox missed the postseason last year for the first time since 2002, nobody took it harder than Ortiz. Forget about all of the home runs; Ortiz lives for October, which he has proven every time he's played on that stage.
The low point of 2006 -- in fact, of Ortiz's time in Boston -- probably came in August, when the Yankees humiliated the Red Sox during a five-game sweep at Fenway Park.
"You know, when we played the Yankees, it was a totally different atmosphere at the field," said Ortiz. "Not doing well like everybody expected was just a nightmare."
But nothing that bright Florida sun and a busy winter of moves by general manager Theo Epstein couldn't cure.
"This is a whole new year," said Ortiz. "This team put a lot of new pieces together, and let's see what happens."
All the changes made to the roster?
"We needed it," said Ortiz. "Our front office, GM, owners, they went out there and got some of the best [talent] that was on the market. Hopefully, everybody stays healthy and everybody can do what everybody expects. I'm pretty sure we'll be out there [in] October."
And under the heading of nothing changing, Ortiz's pal and protector in the lineup -- fellow Dominican RBI machine Manny Ramirez -- is back following another winter of fruitless trade rumors. Ortiz is glad he won't have to make do without Ramirez.
"Manny is one of the best hitters in the game, no doubt about it," said Ortiz. "This is a team that needs Manny healthy. It's hard to trade Manny. It's hard to get somebody when you trade Manny. I think that's what's been the problem, to get what you really deserve. This is a good situation. We went out there and got some new players. We still have Manny around. Hopefully, we can work out well this year."
Considering all the buzz in Yankees camp about the relationship between Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter, it was only fitting that someone asked Ortiz if his relationship with Ramirez has changed.
"No, it's still the same," said Ortiz. "Manny's still crazy. I'm still babysitting him. Same thing all the way around. There's no breaking up thing -- we don't play that here."
Ramirez, who has been given clearance to report to camp on March 1 for personal reasons, missed the humorous sight of Ortiz lumbering and muttering through Wednesday's conditioning drills.
"Are we going to the Olympics this year?" Ortiz hollered in mock anger to manager Terry Francona after finishing a grueling sprint.
After he had caught his breath, Ortiz didn't seem to mind the running so much.
"I struggled a little bit out there," said Ortiz. "It's part of what we're doing, part of getting all of us in shape, staying away from injuries, like last year. [I need to] just drink a lot of water and forget about it."
Ortiz was a little more prepared for the conditioning than he might have been in years past, thanks to some of the work he did over the winter. He looked a little trimmer and firmer.
"Right after the season, I took a couple of weeks off and started doing a whole bunch of things, rather than just trying to do everything at once," Ortiz said. "Your body receives it better, you don't [exhaust] yourself. When you come down here to Spring Training in good shape, that's pretty much what everybody wants to see."
And, yes, Ortiz did see that the marketplace changed dramatically over the winter, leading him to wonder how much money he might have made if he hadn't signed a contract extension (four years, $52 million) in the first week of the 2006 season.
But in typical Ortiz fashion, he wasn't especially burnt up about it.
"I know there's a lot of good things happening out there. It's something that you can't control," he said. "You make decisions, and later on if something happens, you already did what you're supposed to, I guess. It doesn't bother me. I'm going to still be young when this contract finishes. Hopefully, the money is still out there like that."
In the meantime, Ortiz will just keep rolling.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.