THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Dan Shaughnessy

Lighting a camp fire

With his special spark, Ortiz gets things cookin’ in grand entrance

“Big Papi’’ David Ortiz takes a jaunt around the field, with “Lil Papi’’ — his son D’Angelo — leading the way. “Big Papi’’ David Ortiz takes a jaunt around the field, with “Lil Papi’’ — his son D’Angelo — leading the way. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)
By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / February 18, 2011

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FORT MYERS, Fla. — The tranquility of the Red Sox minor league complex clubhouse was rocked yesterday when David Ortiz made his first entrance of spring training at 8:12 a.m.

With his ever-cute son D’Angelo at his side, Big Papi burst into the room hugging everyone in his path, voice booming at levels high enough to wake slumbering creatures outside the clubhouse.

“What’s up [expletives]?’’ said the big fella. “I’m back! My Packers, they whupped some ass, huh?’’

If you’ve ever seen Ray Liotta’s Copacabana entrance scene in “Goodfellas,’’ you know what I’m talking about. Ortiz was the man in this room, and his presence electrified everyone around him.

Wearing a T-shirt that read, “I still ♥ white people,’’ Ortiz was unpacking boxes and regaling his stall neighbors when a fit-looking veteran player made his first appearance in the Sox clubhouse, almost unnoticed.

It was Carl Crawford, the man the Sox are paying $142 million for the next seven seasons.

No way Crawford was going to quietly pass through Ortiz’s space. Papi spotted his new teammate, put him in a bear hug, almost lifting him off the ground, and exclaimed, “Now you can score my [expletive] instead of catching my [expletive]!’’

This was a moment.

“We haven’t seen these guys for a long time and it’s exciting when they walk in that clubhouse,’’ said manager Terry Francona. “Everybody’s all energetic to see each other and that’s great. There’s no doubt that the loyalty and personality go a long way into helping us through the frustrations of a long year.’’

Later in the morning, Ortiz took batting practice and shagged fly balls for a couple of hours while pitchers and catchers went through formal workouts. He spent time in the outfield speaking with new teammates Cra wford and Adrian Gonzalez. After noon, he spoke with the assembled media and quickly downplayed any tension regarding the Sox’ renewal of his contract over the winter.

“I think things went fine,’’ he said. “They did what they wanted to do at the time and we all agreed and it’s just a new year with a lot of expectations.’’

This was not his tone last summer or early in the winter when Ortiz told everybody that he would not be happy if the option was renewed and he came back with a one-year deal. What changed?

“That’s something that I can’t really control,’’ he answered. “I want to stick around, but that’s what they had on the table for me at the time and you just move on.’’

Amen. It’s nice to see that the big fella changed his tune. At $12.5 million, he’s easily the highest-paid DH in the league. Given his horrible Aprils the last two years, his declining numbers, and his inability to hit lefties, most fans would think Ortiz should be delighted the option was triggered.

General manager Theo Epstein said it was not a hard decision.

“He’s been one of the best, if not the best designated hitters every year,’’ said Epstein. “The length made sense to us, so we picked it up and feel good about it. Any time you have a one-year option on a good player, it’s tempting to exercise it.’’

What about the hideous starts?

“Obviously those types of slumps are hard for the players and for everybody around the player,’’ said the GM. “We never thought he was done.

“There’s always some concern when you’re going through stretches like that, but he deserves all the credit in the world for working his way out of it and not getting consumed by the storm that was starting to surround him.’’

Francona added, “It’s pretty public knowledge last April was tough on everybody, myself included. What to do, what not to do. With David’s history and what he means to us, options we had on the bench, it was a very difficult month. We fought our way through it. I’ll always do what I think is best for our team.’’

That’s where things could get tricky. Ortiz hit .222 against lefties last year. In the last four seasons, his OPS against lefties has gone from .852 to .599. Despite this trend, the ever-loyal Francona has pledged to keep Ortiz in the lineup against southpaws because it helps Ortiz’s overall performance. Some would say this is done at the peril of losing ballgames.

“I’ve got to prove that to myself and to everyone,’’ Ortiz acknowledged. “I hit lefties before. I know that I can hit lefties, I’ve just got to have better numbers.’’

“That’s a challenge to David,’’ said Epstein. “We’ll see if he can respond to that challenge against lefties. That’s something that’ll probably evolve over the course of the season as we see how pieces fit together.’’

How does Ortiz plan to avoid another April slump?

“I think all I need to do is not think about it,’’ he said. “Everybody talks about it and you put more pressure on it than normal. I understand how come people worry about me because of the way the season starts. But I’m not planning to put pressure on myself when the season starts. I’m just going to get prepared and go and play the game.

“I’m just not going to let that get into my head. Last year I didn’t think it was fair that people had doubts after the second game of the season, but I guess that’s part of the game and I’m not planning to go into that.

“I’m just going to focus on playing baseball right now. My goal is to have a good start and hopefully we’ll win the World Series this year.’’

Asked about the clubhouse camaraderie, Ortiz laughed and said, “I don’t like it here. There’s a few [expletives] that we need to take care of. We have a lot of characters in there and I love it because that says what we are.’’

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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