boston.com Sports Sportsin partnership with NESN your connection to The Boston Globe

World-beater

With career year, Ortiz certainly went the extra miles

NAGOYA, Japan -- What Big Papi needed, more than anything, was a nap. "Let me tell you, baby, I'm tired," David Ortiz said as he walked down the runway leading to the third base dugout in the Nagoya Dome, the fourth ballpark in four nights for a team of major league all-stars whose exhibition tour of Japan had begun to resemble one of those trips the Celtics make when they vacate the FleetCenter because the circus is in town.

"I can't wait till I'm on the other side," Ortiz said, anticipating the team's return home tomorrow after an eight-game visit here in which he shared top billing with Roger Clemens, especially after he hit a 514-foot home run last weekend in Tokyo that had one Japanese newspaper proclaiming him the "cleanup hitter of the world."

"You know, it's nice around here, a lot of good people, but it's hard to get used to in a short period of time," said Ortiz. "I mean, I go back to the hotel, I'm a big TV watcher. I got TVs all over my house. My baby's room. My room. Everywhere.

"But here, man, all I can watch is CNN, and I can't watch CNN because it just makes me worry about things, because all they show is people getting shot, things like that."

There was one day last week, when he was being taken to lunch by one of his Japanese hosts, that Ortiz looked as though he had stumbled into one of those cop shows he likes to watch. On the way to the restaurant, they noticed a black car in pursuit.

"All the way, man, he was following us," Ortiz said.

Moments after their arrival, the car pulled up behind them, and a middle-aged Japanese man wearing a dark suit emerged from behind the wheel.

"All he wanted," Ortiz said, "was an autograph."

Winning a World Series can have that effect on people, even in a baseball-crazy country on the other side of the international date line where the favorite US team has always been the Yankees -- never more so than after beloved slugger Hideki Matsui left the Yomiuri Giants to wear pinstripes -- and whose most insanely popular player, Ichiro, is setting records with the Seattle Mariners.

But there were abundant signs that the Red Sox have their fans here. In the Tokyo Dome last weekend were two North Shore guys in full Sox regalia -- Bill Schacht of Reading and Shawn Newell of Swampscott -- leading an entire section of thunderstick-slapping fans in rousing chants of "Let's go, Red Sox."

"I just needed to say thank you to these guys," Schacht said of his willingness to shell out 15,000 yen (more than $140) for a ticket, "and ask them to sign my ball."

Had he charged for every bat and ball he signed for the Japanese players, Oki-na-chichi, which is how you say Big Papi in Japanese, could have taken home considerably more than the roughly $120,000 each major leaguer was paid to take part in this trip, though Sox teammate Manny Ramirez forfeited his take when he cut short his visit because, he said, his hamstrings were bothering him.

Other than the fatigue, Ortiz cheerfully absorbed everything that came his way on his travels, which took him from Tokyo's Ginza district to Fukuoka in the south, the mountains of Sapporo to the north, and stops in between that included Osaka and Nagoya.

"I saw a whole bunch of things, man, I got to take notes," Ortiz said. "Everything is like, opposite, here. Like the driving [the Japanese drive on the left side of the road]. I like sushi, man, but it's different from the sushi we have on the other side. And one day, they made a steak for me, but then they took this bowl, and threw an egg in there, and put my steak in that. It was like, `Ooooh,' " he said, scrunching up his face.

That wasn't quite as exotic a dining experience as the one had by the team's manager, Bruce Bochy of the Padres, who in Fukuoka was taken to a restaurant where he caught his own meal out of pool of fish -- a good-sized red snapper -- then to his later regret, took up his host's dare to eat one of the fish's eyeballs. And Ortiz passed on most of the tours offered to the players and their families, like a visit to Kamakura, where teammates like Dontrelle Willis of the Florida Marlins posed in front of a real big papi, the statue of the Great Buddha.

Ortiz spent most of his time here with a cousin from the Dominican Republic, Wascar Guerrero, who other than a handful of sumos may have been the only man in Japan who trumped Ortiz in size. It was while sitting around in his hotel room one night with Guerrero that Ortiz had time to reflect on a season that for big hits, especially in October, may have eclipsed any that have preceded it in the 103-year history of the Olde Towne Team.

Those hits included a walkoff home run in the Division Series against the Angels, and a walkoff home run and a game-winning hit in extra innings during the unprecedented comeback against the Yankees in the ALCS.

Ortiz hit .301 during the regular season, with 41 home runs and 139 RBIs, and a slugging percentage of .603. He was even more prolific in the postseason, batting .400 in 14 games, with 22 hits that included 5 home runs, 19 RBIs, and a ridiculous OPS (combined on-base and slugging percentage) of 1.274. "You know," he said, "I think I just got prepared for this season. I was talking to my boy [Guerrero], and he told me, `Man, from the first day of spring training, you were banging. That first game in spring training, you were breaking car windows in the parking lot, then the season came and you were hot the whole season, the playoffs came, look what you did, and you come to Japan, look what you did. What the hell, man, don't you get tired?'

"I'm tired, but I still got something left."

The night in which sleep may have come hardest was after the Sox were humiliated, 19-8, by the Yankees, to fall behind, three games to none, in the ALCS. His baby was cranky that night, too, as Ortiz brooded about what had transpired. "On the way to the park," he said, "I saw that [billboard] of Manny doing this [pointing] and saying, `Keep the Faith,' " Ortiz said. "I thought about that. I thought about all the people I saw at the field that night, destroyed. I thought about us being in Boston. I thought about how I don't like to lose. I'm not a loser.

"When I walked into the park, everybody was in the mood. I thought everybody was going to be down, but everybody was in a good mood and I said, `OK, this is what I want to see.' I start talking to some of my boys, I got together with Manny, and we got a whole bunch of guys screaming, `We're going to do it, we're going to survive, we're going to come back, we're not going to lose here in Boston.' Everybody kept repeating it, `If we lose, we're not going to lose in Boston.' "

Ortiz stepped up in the next two games and delivered: the home run in the 12th that sent everyone home at 1:22 a.m.; the 14th-inning single that sent the Series back to New York for Game 6.

"After we won those two games," Ortiz said, "I sent a message to my teammates. Basically, I said, `I don't want to see nobody scared out here. If you're scared, go home. I need somebody to step up.' They got the message.

"We got a lot of great players, man. People don't understand. We got to that level not just because of me and Manny, putting up the numbers. If Johnny [Damon] doesn't get on base, we don't win. If [Mark] Bellhorn doesn't hit, we don't win. If [Bill] Mueller and [Orlando] Cabrera don't play defense and get their hits and move runners, we don't win. If Trot [Nixon] doesn't come in, we don't win.

"And [if] the bench guys don't do what they're supposed to do, we don't win. Dave Roberts, stealing a base. [Doug] Mientkiewicz plays some `D.' If we don't put it all together, we don't win."

There was one Sox teammate for whom Ortiz reserved special praise.

"You know how everybody has baseball heroes?" he said. "Curt Schilling is one of mine.

"When you talk about a team player and guys who are going to go out there and show his teammates respect, that's one. He showed respect the whole season, and when he got to the playoffs, he was like me and the rest of the guys -- you either ride or you die. That guy was bleeding out there. You know how terrible that weather was? I was DH-ing and I'd go inside, and I'd come out and that man was bleeding. That ankle was blowing up, but he was so focused."

But when it was all over, and the Sox were splashing through that champagne bath of champions, it was Tim Wakefield who touched Ortiz's heart. "He came and gave me a big hug," Ortiz said. "He had been in Boston all those years, and he was crying and saying, `I don't care what happens now, but I want to thank all you guys who came later for feeling the same pain we feel."

When this is over, Ortiz will fly to his home in Green Bay, Wis., and eventually he'll go back to his native Dominican Republic. He, too, wonders how much of these champion Sox will return to Fort Myers next spring.

"You know what the Yankees are going to do next year," he said. "They're going to come back stronger than ever. How many years since they won the World Series. It's four now.

"You win a World Series, you want to compete. I want to be in a situation where [management] gives you a chance. I want to win another one and another one and another one. I hope they feel the same way. I think they do."

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES
 
Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months
 Advanced search / Historic Archives