If David Ortiz is not back to his old self – gregarious and grinning in the clubhouse, mashing home runs from the batters box – then he is awfully close.
Ortiz, with 26 homers and 91 RBIs on the season, is closing in on benchmark numbers that seemed unthinkable after the first two months, when his average hovered below .200 and his brooding walks back to the dugout became painful to watch. When Ortiz looks back over his tumultuous season, he can pinpoint the moment that changed his year.
“When I said [expletive] it,” Ortiz said. “When I started playing like it was Little League. I’m serious. One day, I wake up, ‘OK. I guess I got nothing to lose anymore. I’m way behind what I normally am. So I go to the field today, I’m not going to give a [expletive]. I’m just going to act like I’m in Little League.’ When you’re in Little League, you don’t do [expletive], basically. You just go and play baseball, right? At this level, it’s different. You come in, get your work in. I guess I was worried more about that, basically, than the ballgame.”
The moment Ortiz changed his year around came after he and hitting coach Dave Magadan spoke. Ortiz’s personality has won him countless friends across baseball, and their offers to help became a hindrance for Ortiz. Magadan convinced Ortiz to simplify.
“My friends and family are always coming at me with different points. But I really got that, I guess, one day from Magadan, the hitting coach. He told me I was getting advice from everybody, every time I take a bad swing or had a bad game. [He said], ‘People will come to you. I know that. But we know more about your swing than anyone else, because we’ve watched you take 3,000 swings a day. So see the ball and hit it.’ ”
Since May 20, the day Ortiz hit his first home run, Ortiz’s 26 home runs tie him with Mark Teixeira and Carlos Pena for the most in the American League. He has 76 RBIs over the span, fourth most in the AL and best on the Red Sox. His resurgence peaked over the past two games, during which he has hit two home runs with seven RBIs.
“I like to be where I’m at right now,” Ortiz said. “But I would like to get better, too. There’s never an end to this game. There’s always something you need to learn, something new, something that you want to approach to get your game better, to take you to another level.”