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'Big Papi' makes his papa proud

Ortiz's dad exults in Santo Domingo

SANTO DOMINGO -- Arms raised in elation, Americo Enrique Ortiz leapt from the edge of his leather couch as he watched his son, David, come to the rescue of Red Sox Nation once again.

At the Ortiz family home in the Dominican capital, the bedlam rivaled Fenway Park after Big Papi's run-scoring, bloop single in the bottom of the 14th inning of last night's epic Red Sox-Yankee battle kept Boston's playoff dream alive.

"Felicidad! Felicidad! Felicidad!" said the elder Ortiz, 50, shouting, waving his arms and dancing in a big group hug with his daughter and granddaughter. "It was great!"

Life has often been great for Ortiz since his son slugged his way into the heart of Red Sox Nation. Ortiz, a quiet man whose round face breaks into an easy smile much like his son's, is still getting used to David's superstardom and the attention that has come with it.

"The change has been profound," said Ortiz, who goes by his nickname, Leo, during a break in the action as he watched the game in a room framed with pictures of his son. "There has been a notable increase in interest in him, and our family."

In the baseball-mad Dominican Republic, David Ortiz is stepping out of the long shadow cast by Red Sox compatriots Manny Ramirez and Pedro Martinez. The player popularly known as Big Papi has emerged as a national hero, capturing everyone's imagination.

"David Ortiz," said taxi driver Samuel Antigua. "He's the one player in baseball that has been an important factor in two games."

Antigua was referring to Ortiz's walk-off homer in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series, and the division series-clinching blast against the Anaheim Angels that propelled the Sox into the ALCS. "He really is as important as Manny Ramirez and Pedro Martinez," Antigua said.

If Ortiz is now in an elite class of superstars, his father tries to take the changes in stride. Big Papi's papa still goes to work every day. He owns a gas station and two auto parts stores. He helps David Ortiz's daughter, Yesica, 8, with her homework. He talks business strategy with his old friends.

"The way some people react to us has changed, but we haven't changed," Ortiz said. "Some people reach a certain level of success and they change. But we still have the same friends. We still treat people the same way."

Two years ago, Ortiz moved into a plush apartment in a middle-class neighborhood in Santo Domingo. David Ortiz had the dwelling custom designed, with marble floors, rich wood trim, and chandeliers, for his mother, Angela Rosa Arias. She died before it was finished, the victim of a car accident on New Year's Day 2002 at age 47. The central image in the apartment is a painting of David looking toward skyward at his mother.

"You can never heal a wound like that," said Leo Ortiz. "David and his mother were very close. Sometimes, when he talks about her, I can tell he is sad. But his success helps in other ways, because one of their objectives was for him to be a baseball player."

Yesica Ortiz felt like a star herself when she went to school yesterday. "Boys greeted her with shouts of, 'We're winning,' and 'Your father is the best,' " said her aunt, Albania Ortiz, 26, David Ortiz's sister.

Leo Ortiz now lives in the apartment with his daughter and granddaughter. On game days, the family gathers in a wood paneled room to watch the Sox on a 62-inch television.

For most of last night's extra-inning thriller, Leo Ortiz was in his usual jovial mood. He sipped white wine, nibbled on cheese, and cheered wildly when Ortiz got the Red Sox within a run with a solo blast in the bottom of the eighth inning.His cellphone started to ring immediately. "How does he do it?" friends asked.

"He doesn't get nervous," replied the proud papa. "That's how he does it."

"David does not fear any pitcher. I knew if someone was going to get a hit, it was going to be David," he said, a wide grin on his face.

Leo Ortiz said he is awed by the way Boston has embraced his son.

He is also proud of the way his son has handled stardom. He recalled a trip to Boston this summer, when the pair visited Children's Hospital. A young boy terminally ill with cancer was a huge fan of Ortiz. But he was too sick to go to a game. So his hero came to him.

"David brought him a shirt and the boy was so happy," Leo Ortiz recalled. "Later on, when David hit his 40th home run, he dedicated it to him. . . . My son has made me very proud."

A former minor league Dominican player, Ortiz said he never worries when his son steps into the batter's box.

"I know he plays relaxed," Ortiz said, legs calmly crossed as Game 5 wore on. "I know David's style of baseball. If he feels relaxed, I feel relaxed."

Ortiz spoke to his son shortly before David Ortiz left for the ballpark yesterday to prepare for Game 5. There was no talk of a celebration. Only about how the Sox could win.

"We talked about how important it was for Pedro to pitch well, and for the rest of the team to take care of the runs," Leo Ortiz said.

Leo Ortiz may still be getting to know Red Sox Nation. But he knows this: As long as his son is in the Boston lineup, a World Series title isn't an impossible dream.

"David will still be with the team," he said. "There is time to make it to the World Series."

Kathy McCabe can be reached at kmccabe@globe.com. 

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