02/22/10 3:44 PM EST
Papi out to silence critics with big 2010
After a subpar season, slugger focused on returning to form
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
The big designated hitter, who is entering his eighth season with the Red Sox, would like to turn that around and make that type of talk seem as far gone as some of the prodigious home runs he has drilled over the years.
"I think people gave up on me too early too fast, started talking about age and all that kind of stuff," said Ortiz on Monday, his first day at camp. "You listen to it for a minute. It was the same people that were clapping for you a year before and saying good things about you. [Does someone's] mind change that quick? I don't believe in that. It's a one-minute thing. That's the way I see it. I'm strong enough to know how to deal with it and put that in the past."
There's also the specter of his uncertain contract situation, as the Red Sox hold all the cards, with a $12.5 million club option. Has that added additional pressure?
"Not really," Ortiz said. "This is a game that has a lot of opportunities. This is a ballclub that I carry with me as long as I've been here and I keep on telling you guys that I would like to see my career [end with] this ballclub.
"It seems a lot of times like there's a lot of negativity floating around. In my situation, I know I'm an employee here. It doesn't matter how things are going -- I try my best. This is just another year, just like the others. We have an owner, we have a GM -- they are the ones who decide what to do. Like I say, I'm going to try my best and move on."
Without question, a big year looms for Big Papi. But the lefty slugger comes in with no lack of belief in himself and no loss of the gregarious nature that has made him one of the most popular players in the game.
Yes, he had a productive offseason of workouts that had manager Terry Francona, among others, lauding the type of shape he is in.
"It's just something that it's pretty much part of the game when people worry about your body shape. I'm not going to look like Ricky Martin right now," said Ortiz. "I'm going to be the same guy. I might get stronger, I might try to stay away from injuries. I ain't going to look any different. I wish I could look like Ricky Martin."
The 34-year-old Ortiz might be a little lighter, but he is still a large presence. Taking his first round of live batting practice of the spring, he wore out the street that sits behind the right-field wall.
Last year's start was a slump that turned into a nightmare. By May 31, he was hitting .185 with one home run and 18 RBIs.
"I don't know, I just turned the page and put that in the past. This is a new season. I just put that behind me. Things that happened, hopefully everything will start up different," Ortiz said.
But he cautions people not to panic if he doesn't come out blazing.
"I'm not a beginning guy," Ortiz said. "I'll tell you that right now. I'm an end-of-the-season guy. Pretty much my whole career I've been like that. But last year was a nightmare. Last year was something -- I don't even know how to explain it. Like I say, I'm not focused on that, I'm focused on changing things around like you're used to and help this ballclub the best I can."
Thanks to a strong last four months, Ortiz was able to make his power numbers look respectable, as he finished with 28 homers and 99 RBIs.
"Last season was an experience for me. At the end of the season, when I sat down at my house, I was proud of myself," Ortiz said. "It was because there's not too many people that know how to bounce back from that hole that I walked into the first two months.
"I asked myself, 'How did I bounce back?' I had an answer for that. I just stayed strong and didn't pay attention to all the negativity that sometimes people bring around. I just stuck with what I have and thanks to God, I had a whole lot of teammates that had my back when I was really struggling. There were a few pieces I put together and came around. I definitely know that bouncing back like I did last year gave me more confidence and makes me stronger for this year."
It is a year Ortiz genuinely seems to be looking forward to.
"I'm very excited about this season," said Ortiz. "I'm positive. My focus right now is to do some damage."
Ortiz was asked if he feels he has something to prove.
"I'm going to leave that up to you guys," Ortiz said. "I know myself. I believe in myself. I have done it tons of times. For me to do it and get it done once again, it [would not be] a surprise."
Did he have any inkling last Spring Training that he was going to get off to a tough start?
"I'm not going to lie to you," Ortiz said. "I wasn't feeling comfortable. I guess we had a lot of games too early last year -- important games like the [World Baseball Classic]. You weren't ready for it. You're putting pressure on yourself just because you want to produce and you're not ready for the time and that cut you off from doing what you have to do at this time of the season to get prepared for the season. There's a lot of things you get caught into and next thing you know, the season started just the way it did for me last year. It's a whole totally different situation right now."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.