Baseball Player David Ortiz On Being 'Big Papi'
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
If our next guest's career had a soundtrack, it might go pretty much like this.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: Ortiz to right field, back goes Souza, looking up and it's gone.
GREENE: David Ortiz hit 541 of those home runs during his two decades in the major leagues. Oh, yeah, he also won three World Series championships with the Boston Red Sox, and he became a legend in a city already known for sports legends. And there is that nickname - Big Papi.
DAVID ORTIZ: I used to call pretty much everybody Papi and, you know, they start Papi-ing (ph) me back (laughter).
GREENE: Ortiz actually called teammates Papi because he could never remember their first names. He does remember quite vividly in a new memoir some of the defining moments of his long career and also the childhood that defined him. In a neighborhood of the Dominican Republic, he says he had to survive, parents working hard to give him the chance at a different life. As for David Ortiz's dreams...
You didn't dream about being Babe Ruth. You dreamed about being Michael Jordan.
D. ORTIZ: That's right. I grew up playing a lot of basketball, and Michael Jordan was the guy that everybody wanted to be. If it was because of me, I would be in, you know, like, more into the basketball than the baseball. But my dad, he figured that I had a good hand and nice coordination. And he encouraged me big time to follow up with the baseball game, so...
GREENE: Probably made a good choice, yeah. But in the beginning, you actually found baseball when you watched it on TV - kind of slow.
D. ORTIZ: Yeah, yeah. I - when I was a kid, I thought that sitting down to watch a baseball game was...
GREENE: Punishment (laughter).
D. ORTIZ: It was horrific. It was - it was not fun. When you're a child and you are sitting down watching TV, you want to make sure that you get to be entertained. Otherwise, you want to be moving all over the place and doing things (laughter).
GREENE: When you arrived in the U.S., it's the summer of 1994. I mean, you're 18 years old. You're in Arizona. You're a rookie prospect for the Seattle Mariners. You don't speak much English. Did you see a successful career, or were you like, where in the world am I?
D. ORTIZ: To be honest with you, I don't even know what I was really doing because all you think about it was like - knowing that you left a family behind that are - it's counting on you. So you had that pressure that you got to carry on your shoulder, but at the same time, you are so young that you don't want to be thinking about it all the time. But I try my best. I give everything I have to do it.
GREENE: I want to jump ahead. It was October of 2004. Boston hadn't won a World Series since 1918.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: Just turned midnight here at Fenway Park. The Red Sox are three outs away from being swept.
GREENE: Down three games to none to the Yankees - no team had ever come back to win a series from that deficit. Did you have any hope that you were going to come back and beat the Yankees?
D. ORTIZ: Honestly no, especially after that last game that we lost. You know, I mean, they scored, like, 18 runs, and it seems like everything was going south for us. But all of a sudden, we won the first game. Here comes the second game, and we end up winning it. And now we have that good momentum going on, and the rest of the series is history.
GREENE: Can I just say how refreshing it is to hear an athlete be honest about giving up hope?
D. ORTIZ: (Laughter).
GREENE: Athletes always say, oh, no, we still have hope. We can - it's one game at a time. We can win four games.
D. ORTIZ: No, no, no, no. If I tell you that, I'm lying to you.
GREENE: It's hard to even decide what I want to hear you talk about because there are so many great moments in this book. But I think about you hitting that grand slam in game two against the Tigers in the League Championship Series. And the reason I ask about it is because that was 2013, and it was after the marathon bombing in Boston, which had to make that a very different kind of year in so many ways.
D. ORTIZ: I'll tell you, that year was - it was like a movie. Being in New England, going through the marathon bombing, something that left a scar on all of us, winning the World Series that year was something that - I can't even describe it. Making all those families that have family members that suffer that tragedy - I think it was a big release. It was a huge relief for all of them.
GREENE: Listening to you talk, it makes me want to ask you about the low points when your career took a turn and you wrote about when your name turned up on that list of players who had supposedly tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003. Why do you think your name ended up on that list?
D. ORTIZ: I always ask myself the same question. This thing came out, and it was like my word against theirs. It made me very angry. You don't accuse people just like that, especially someone that is having the career that I was having plus the town that I was playing for and all that I had accomplished in my career.
GREENE: And we should say, you wrote that you were a little careless back when you were buying supplements and vitamins over the counter but that you never used steroids. But can you see why fans, in cases where it was proven, why fans would be disappointed?
D. ORTIZ: Oh, definitely. When you hear that one of your players got caught using something that is not keeping everything at the same level than the others, you know, it kind of gets you thinking. You know, in my case, when I say that I was careless, I was just like any other athlete going to those places like GNC to buy supplements because it's like you guys walking into an office. You need a cup of coffee to get yourself going. As an athlete, you need supplements. I mean, the workout and the stuff that we do, you need to have energy to get it done.
GREENE: You miss playing?
D. ORTIZ: I don't miss playing. I think I had a long career, and every time you think about, oh, I think I can still play and then the pain pop up.
D. ORTIZ: Never mind (laughter).
GREENE: Do you still replay that moment when you retired and were at Fenway and your daughter surprised you and sang the national anthem at your last home opener?
D. ORTIZ: Yeah. That's the one thing that I always go back to. You know, that little girl, she was in one of my arm 15 years before that, you know, and all of a sudden, you see your child out there, you know, performing. I was so nervous. I don't think I had ever got that nervous, even when I play (laughter).
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
ALEXANDRA ORTIZ: (Singing) And the land of the free and the home of the brave.
GREENE: That is David Ortiz's daughter, Alex, singing there the year he retired, 2016. Ortiz's new book is called "Papi." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.