Commentary

Ortiz finds perspective

Homerless no more, Big Papi buoyed by father's visit, extra work, support from players

Updated: April 23, 2010, 11:31 PM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- Just like in the TV ad, the phone rang, David Ortiz answered, and it was his father.

Papi calling Big Papi.

"I'm coming to Boston,'' Enrique Ortiz said.

[+] EnlargeDavid Ortiz
AP Photo/Charles KrupaDavid Ortiz hit his first homer of the season Friday night after two straight days on the bench.

"Why's that?'' the son asked. "Are you coming to be checked out at the hospital?''

"No,'' the father replied. "I'm coming to hang out with you. I saw you on TV, and you looked really stressed. I want to come and help you relax.''

Enrique Ortiz, who was seriously ill last summer, is much better now. He reacted with delight when his son translated the Direct TV ad, the one in which Ortiz takes a call in the dugout during a game, and goes, "Dad?"

"My father used to call me early in my career and ask me, 'Why do you always take that first strike right down the middle?''' Ortiz said Friday afternoon. "I said, 'Oh, is that right?'

"He said, 'Yeah, I saw it, right on TV.'''

That prompted Ortiz to invite his father to come to Boston for a series against the Yankees years ago. He bought him a ticket right behind home plate, three rows back. "Remember that reliever, the big guy who body-slammed people, Kyle Farnsworth?'' Ortiz said. "He pitched that day, and later Mariano [Rivera] came in, too.

"After the game, I saw my dad in the parking lot, and his eyes were this wide -- he looked like an owl. He says, 'Everything seemed so fast. Now I know. I'm done with telling you what to do.'''

That was the end of the long-distance batting tips. But a father still has a sense of when he might be needed by his son. This was one of those times, with Ortiz struggling to snap out of an early-season slump, peaking this week with the embarrassment of being lifted for a pinch hitter Tuesday night.

Ortiz nods knowingly when told the story of how Hall of Famer Jim Rice once shoved manager Joe Morgan when he was lifted for a pinch hitter at the end of his career.

"It's gotten to the point where people believe you can't do it anymore,'' he said. "On the other hand, if you don't do so good, that gives people the right to do what they feel like.''

That includes being taken out for a pinch-hitter.

"Crazy,'' he said, shaking his head. "But like I say, you got to take it like a man when you're not doing good.

"That's not gonna happen if you're going good.''

He laughs. "If it happens when I'm going good,'' he said, "then I turn into Jim Rice.''

His father's visit, Ortiz says, has been a good one. Enrique Ortiz, now that he's healthy, enjoys bopping around the city. "He loves to tell me stories about when I was a kid,'' Ortiz said. "He said, I used to wish that I could sit at the table and have a drink with you and talk, but you were too little. I'm so happy we can do that now.''

While he's sitting in front of his cubicle, eating a cup of Japanese soup, Ortiz's son, D'Angelo, is playing with Victor Jose Martinez, the son of the Red Sox catcher.

"Tell him how old you are,'' Ortiz says, gesturing to a visitor.

"Five,'' D'Angelo answers, then scurries off.

"There's my life,'' Ortiz says.

Has D'Angelo heard any disparaging remarks in kindergarten?

"Not yet,'' Ortiz said. "He's still proud of his father.''

The night before, the TV cameras caught Ortiz with his arm around Tim Wakefield. Earlier that evening, Wakefield, the longest-tenured member of the Sox, had been told he was going to the bullpen, replaced in the rotation by Daisuke Matsuzaka.

The season is not yet a month old, and Boston's old guard has taken a few hits.

"Mentality-wise, we got to change,'' said Ortiz, who also was seen that night bumping fists with Mike Lowell, the man who pinch-hit for him and then the next two nights replaced him as DH.

"That's my boy,'' Ortiz said of Lowell. "It's not his fault that I'm struggling. I love to see Mikey doing well. He's proved people wrong, too.''

For all the criticism he has heard over the past year, Ortiz said he has been overwhelmed by the messages of encouragement he has received, especially from fellow players.

"All the time,'' he said. "Last year, pretty much the whole league was sending me messages. Even some pitchers, some of my boys from back home, and even some other guys.''

Advice has come from all corners, too. That has probably complicated things for Ortiz.

"When I hurt my hand two years ago,'' Ortiz said, "I walked into a lot of mechanical problems. I got caught in a situation where my stuff was always flat before I hurt my hand, and my swing got away from me.

''Before I injured my hand, I would have gotten my 40 bombs and 100 RBIs. Last year, it bothered me in the beginning. It felt like my body was trying to protect it. Toward the end of last year, I was fine. And now I don't even think about my hand.''

In the last two days in which he has been out of the lineup, Ortiz said he has done a lot of extra hitting and watched video.

''I've seen some things I'm doing now that I didn't use to do,'' he said. "When you have bad mechanics and you are trying to overdo things, get three hits in one at-bat, that's a bad combination.''

Made worse, he said, by the pressure he feels every time he comes to the plate.

"I need to put all that stuff away,'' he said. "Go out and have fun, make things happen. Pitchers are throwing the same ball. I'm going to the plate with the same bat.''

On Friday night, in his first at-bat, Ortiz homered into the Monster seats in left-center. It was his first home run of 2010, and the old yard roared.

And somewhere, an old man smiled.

Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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