Red Sox' Ortiz, Hawks' Horford a couple of pals

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Red Sox' Ortiz, Hawks' Horford a couple of pals

Four years ago during the first round of the 2008 playoffs, a Boston Celtics fan sitting courtside yelled over to the Atlanta Hawks bench.

He was trying to get the attention of Al Horford, then a 21-year-old rookie who was dominating the paint in his first postseason run.

The Celtics fan didnt care that Horford was playing for the Hawks, the squad that would push the Cs to seven games in the series, or that the big man was averaging a double-double against his favorite team.

Horford was a professional athlete from the Dominican Republic. So was the fan.

His name was David Ortiz.

The Boston Red Sox designated hitter had found out Horford admired him growing up. Being a fan of the NBA himself, Ortiz attended several playoff games that season. It was the perfect opportunity for an introduction.

He was sitting by the bench so he said hello. He sent his information with one of our guys. We talked to each other and got together and weve been hanging out since, Horford told CSNNE.com following the Celtics Game 4 win over the Hawks. I was proud because hes won a couple World Series and is a Dominican hero back home. It was exciting for him to even know me and then come out here and watch us play. I know he obviously had to pull for the home team, but I know that he was happy for me and the way that I was playing, so it was an exciting time.

Horford and Ortiz have developed a close bond since that initial exchange. Now 25, Horford is a two-time All-Star and ranked in the top ten among all players in rebounds during the 2010 and 2011 seasons.

He was sidelined in January with a torn left pectoral muscle and returned on Sunday for Game 4 of the Celtics-Hawks first round series. Injuries are one of the many aspects of being a professional athlete he discusses with Ortiz.

I think hes realized that he has to take care of his body a lot more, especially now that hes getting older, said Horford. So one of the things that he always emphasizes and talks to me about is taking care of your body and trying to eat well and things like that. I try to listen to him and I try to follow.

The two friends try to see one another when they travel to Atlanta and Boston for road games. When the schedule permits, Ortiz invites Horford over for a home-cooked meal. Over the years, Horford has had dinner with former Red Sox Jonathan Papelbon and Julio Lugo.

Its real laid back, usually Dominican food which we both like, Horford said. He doesnt cook it (laughs), but we both enjoy it. Usually we just hang out and watch another basketball game if its on TV.

On Saturday, Ortiz gave Horford tickets to the Red Sox game against the Baltimore Orioles. Horford attended with his wife. Fenway is such a fun ballpark, he smiled. It is a trip he looks forward to making whenever he gets the opportunity.

Davids like a big brother to me as far as just kind of making sure that Im doing good, he said. He always encourages me to work, stay focused, and thats the kind of relationship we have. Hes just a basketball fan. Thats really what it comes down to. He loves basketball and any chance I get, I like to watch him and the Red Sox play.

As for another testament to their friendship, what does Ortiz, who earned the moniker Big Papi for calling people Papi because he has trouble remembering names, call Horford?

Al, Horford said, pausing. I think he calls me Al. Im pretty sure.

Top prospect Yoan Moncada will join Red Sox on Friday

Top prospect Yoan Moncada will join Red Sox on Friday

BOSTON - The Boston Red Sox have announced they will call up top prospect Yoan Moncada when rosters expand from the current 25-man limit.

Earlier Wednesday, Farrell wouldn't officially confirm the imminent promotion but hinted that the Red Sox appeared ready to call up their top prospect.

Farrell first noted that the Red Sox "need better production'' at third base, where both Travis Shaw and Aaron Hill have struggled mightily at the position.

Moncada, a natural second baseman, was shifted to third base earlier this month at Double A Portland. Moncada has a slash line of .285/.388/.547 with 11 homers and 27 RBI in 44 games.

Asked specifically about the potential of a call-up for Moncada, Farrell said: "We've talked about Yoan. And not just as a pinch-runner. It's an exciting young player, an extremely talented guy. There's all positive reviews and evaluations of him.

"When that major league experience is going to initiate, time will tell that. But in terms of playing the position of third base [in the big leagues], that conversation has been had.''

Previously, the Red Sox had resisted bringing Moncada to the big leagues, worried that he wouldn't be in the lineup often enough to continue his development. The Sox didn't want him to miss out on additional experience in the minors by playing only part-time in the majors.

But now that the minor league seasons are about to end -- Portland finishes Labor Day -- there's nothing in the minors for Moncada to miss.

"This is a different scenario than if it were July or early August,'' said Farrell. "The minor league season ends [soon], so is there benefit to him just being here? The answer to that is yes. Do you weigh playing 'X' number of games per week versus what he could be doing at Portland or Pawtucket? Well, that goes away [with the minor league regular seasons end].

"So, again, by all accounts, there's nothing but positives that could come out of experience here -- if that were to happen.''

 Moncada's promotion is similar to the one experience by Xander Bogaerts in 2013, who was brought up in the final week of August 2013 and remained with the club all the way through the end of the team's World Series run that fall, taking playing time from struggling third baseman Will Middlebrooks.

 "For those who have been around this team for a number of years,'' said Farrell, "teams that have had success have always had an injection of young players late in the season that have helped carry the team through the postseason. I think Yoan would be in a similar category to when Pedey [Dustin Pedroia], when Jake [Jacoby Ellsbury] came into the picture. And Andrew (Benintendi) is already here, so I wouldn't separate [Moncada] out from that at all.

"In fact, he's a direct comparison [to those cases].’’

Farrell agreed that the arrival of a young, highly-touted player can inject some energy into a team in the throes of a pennant race.

"Absolutely, there is,'' said Farrell. "You've got a newness element. You've got, likely, above-average speed. You've got athleticism. You've got the unknown across the field on how does a given [opposing] team attack a given guy.

"In the cases we've talked about, it has been beneficial to us for the young player to come up. They find a way to contribute in a meaningful role. "

Without saying that Moncada's promotion was a definite,  he said "there's a lot [of positives]going for it.''

Farrell also acknowledged that the Sox held internal discussions about how Moncada would be utilized, given that the switch-hitter has been far more productive from the left side of the plate.

"We've talked about what's strong side, how do you look to best ease him in, so to speak,'' said Farrell. "We thought that with Benintendi, how do we best ease him in. Well, he blew the doors off of that one [with his early success]. So, if it happens, and if begins here soon, you'll all be aware.''

Farrell said the reports of Moncada's transition to third base have been encouraging despite three errors in his first nine games there.

"He's shown good range, an above-average arm,'' said Farrell. "Where there will be ongoing work and continued development, just as there was at second base, is the ball hit straight at him. That's just pure technique and fundamental positioning with hands and feet.

"But as far as range to his glove side, moving to third base, that seemingly has not been that big of a challenge for him.''