How Big Papi got his groove back
Slugger points to 'Little League' mentality for his epiphany
NEW YORK -- Now that he is possibly en route to 30 home runs and 100 RBIs -- numbers that were once normal but seemed completely unthinkable a couple of months ago -- David Ortiz can talk about the day that led to the turnaround.
The Red Sox's slugging designated hitter doesn't exactly remember what date it was, whether he was home or on the road. He didn't circle it on his calendar. It was likely some point in late May or early June. But Ortiz remembers the epiphany that led to his dramatic in-season turnaround.
"When I said, '[The heck with] it. I'm going to play like it's Little League.' I'm serious about this," said Ortiz. "One day I woke up and I was like, 'OK, I guess I have nothing to lose anymore. I'm way behind what I'm normally used to. I'll go to the field today, and I'm not going to do [anything before the game]. I'm just going to act like I'm in Little League.' When you're in Little League, you don't do [anything] basically. You just go and play baseball, right?
"On this level, it's different. You come in, get your work in, get prepared. I guess I was worried more about [pregame work] than the ballgame. When the game would come, there would be nothing there. I got tired of that."
So a day or two of mental relaxation cured Ortiz's frame of mind, and eventually loosened him up to the point where he once again became a legitimate threat.
With 10 games left in his season entering Friday night's contest at Yankee Stadium, the left-handed slugger has 26 homers and 91 RBIs. Over his past 14 games, he's hitting .383 with four homers and 12 RBIs. His 25 homers since June 6 lead the American League over that span.
|"When I said, '[The heck with] it. I'm going to play like it's Little League.' I'm serious about this. One day I woke up and I was like, 'OK, I guess I have nothing to lose anymore. I'm way behind what I'm normally used to. I'll go to the field today, and I'm not going to do [anything before the game]. I'm just going to act like I'm in Little League.' When you're in Little League, you don't do [anything] basically. You just go and play baseball, right?"|
|-- David Ortiz|
"Part of our fight early on was to, I don't know if deflect is the right word, but be patient," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "I think people were calling for David to retire or pack it in. There were a lot of nasty things said about him. And he had a really bad two months. But to his credit, and I don't know the numbers probably as well as I should, but I think he's got 25 home runs since [June 6], which has been really good thing."
Ortiz knows that the people who tried to help him when times were tough had his back. But he also knows that it was information overload.
"Friends and family were always coming at me with different things," said Ortiz. "One day, [Dave] Magadan, my hitting coach, he told me, 'Hey, you're listening to everybody every time you have a bad swing or a bad game. People come to you. I guess we know more about your swing than everyone else because we watch you taking 3,000 swings a day. Just stay away from everything. Just go see the ball and hit it.'"
And that's exactly what Ortiz is doing, and he hopes to continue doing deep into October.
"I like to be where I'm at right now, but I'd like to get better, too. It's never an end in this game," Ortiz said. "There's always something you need to learn, something you need to approach to get your game better and taking it to another level. I feel fine right now. I'm just sticking with what I get."
Asked if his epic slump was all mental, Ortiz nodded affirmatively.
"Everything was up here, you're right," said Ortiz. "All right guys, I'm going to the cage."
And with that, bat in hand, Ortiz went to take some extra hitting, a sign that he was out of Little League mode and back to being one of the most feared hitters in the AL.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.