- Joe McDonald, ESPN Staff Writer
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The clubs play the first of two Grapefruit League games Friday at Legends Field in Tampa. Sure, it's only spring training, but based on the offseason the Red Sox had -- acquiring Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler -- it's safe to say Red Sox GM Theo Epstein had a better winter than Yankees GM Brian Cashman.
The Red Sox players don't get as excited as the fans do when these teams play against each other, especially in the spring. But it also tends to be a given that, once the regular season rolls around and the summer months turn into the fall, it'll be the Red Sox and Yankees atop the AL East.
The players probably pay more attention to each team's transactions during the winter.
Red Sox slugger David Ortiz spoke at length about the Yankees and the rivalry Thursday morning in the clubhouse at the City of Palms Park. He said he was too busy at home in the Dominican Republic in the offseason to realize the acquisitions the Red Sox had made, but once he was told, it brought a Big Papi-like smile to his face.
"I get totally disconnected," he said. "I've got so much [stuff] going on when I'm down there, I barely sit down at my computer. But when you find out what's going on, it gets interesting."
His new lockermates this spring just happen to be Crawford and Gonzalez, and Ortiz said he believes the rivalry heated up during the winter with Boston's moves.
"It finally seems like the Red Sox made better moves this offseason than the Yankees," Ortiz said. "It's always the Yankees who are doing the good moves -- I mean, not always, but pretty much since I've been here."
When Ortiz arrived before the 2003 season, Pedro Martinez, Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon were already in Boston. Before this winter, the biggest offseason acquisitions the Red Sox have made since Ortiz has been in Boston were Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell and John Lackey.
"The Yankees, they always found a way to get s--- done. I don't know how they do it," Ortiz said.
Ortiz said that word of mouth around the league from those who play -- or have played -- for the Yankees is that New York is the best place in the majors to play.
"Their players always pass that around, that the Yankees are the best team to play for, this and that and blah, blah, blah," Ortiz said. "That's why there are a lot of players who want to go there and see what's up, and then they come out with the same communication. Why? I don't know."
That practice occurs in Boston, too, but Ortiz said he's never been asked by another player what it's like to play in Boston.
"Actually, I never get to talk to anyone about playing here," he said. "I never get asked by players: 'What's it like to play for the Red Sox?' That's interesting. I never get: 'How is it over there?' You've got more fans asking you that than players. That's funny how it sounds, but that's how it is."
Even Ortiz has inquired about what it's like to play for the Yankees.
"I asked Alex and Johnny, 'Hey, how do you like it over there?' They say, 'Oh, man, it's awesome. It's top of the line.' You ask the next player, and they come out with the same thing. Alex has said, 'Dude, there is no better team to play for than this.' Johnny said the same thing."
When asked whether Damon said he preferred playing for the Yankees rather than the Red Sox, Ortiz explained that he was talking to Damon only about the Yankees.
"I don't really know, he just told me that," Ortiz said. "He told me everything is pretty much first class. I didn't go into details with things because everything is pretty much first class here, too. But that's what every player comes out and says."
Ortiz made it no secret that he was looking for a long-term deal from the Red Sox after his four-year contract expired at the end of 2010. Instead, the Red Sox picked up Ortiz's $12.5 million club option for 2011.
He'll be looking for another long-term deal at the end of this season, too.
Would Ortiz play for the Yankees?
"Me? Would I play for the Yankees? Well, if I don't get signed here, I would play somewhere. You know what I'm saying? I'm not saying I would play for the Yankees, but if I don't have a job, I gotta go somewhere else. As long as I play, right?
"I'll tell you what, I don't know any better than what it's like here. The thing is, I'm not like some other players [around the league] who want to be babysat. Me, I just come to play and get prepared to play. That's what I really care about."
The Red Sox and Yankees kick off the 2011 edition of the storied rivalry Friday in Tampa. The Red Sox were clear winners of the offseason, but who wins out when it really counts remains to be seen.
"I'm going to have fun this year," Ortiz said. "I don't know about anyone else, but I will. I'm going to try to laugh like a motherf---er."
Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.
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