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.

Are Red Sox entering spring training with fewer questions than ever?

Are Red Sox entering spring training with fewer questions than ever?

BOSTON -- Every year it seems like there are major issues or question marks to start spring training where the answers are up in the air.

In 2015, the Red Sox lacked an ace, had Hanley Ramirez moving to left field and Pablo Sandoval coming to town.

In 2016, Ramirez was moving back to the infield, but at a new position, and his bat was in question. Sandoval was coming off a year where he couldn’t hit his weight (he hit .245 and he last weighed in at 255 pounds). How would the starting rotation look after David Price?

This year, there seem to be three questions, but in a way, they’ve already been answered.

How will the Red Sox make up for David Ortiz’s absence?

Well, for one, the Red Sox have three Cy Young-caliber starting pitchers (Price, Chris Sale and Rick Porcello) in their rotation.

And two, Hanley Ramirez is coming off a career year with his highest career output in RBI (111) and second-highest home run total (30). And while Mitch Moreland isn’t the greatest hitter, he’s good for 20 or more home runs. Plus, it seems he’s holding a spot for a certain Red Sox prospect who’s bouncing back well from an injury.

 

Will Sandoval earn the starting third base job back?

The weight loss is a good sign, not only for the physical reasons, but it shows he’s mentally committed to being better.

However, that doesn’t guarantee he gets his job back.

“I’m not going to say [third base] resolved itself,” John Farrell told CSNNE.com, “but you know Panda’s done a very good job of committing to get himself in better shape and we’re looking forward to seeing that play to in spring training.”

Even if Panda can’t put it all together, Farrell told reporters before Thursday’s BBWAA dinner, both Brock Holt and Josh Rutledge would be competing for the job as well.

Holt as plan B -- in the infield? Who wouldn’t take that?

Who’s going to start at catcher?

Sandy Leon, Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart each have their pros an cons.

Leon did it all last year, but went from hitting .383 in his first 39 games to .242 in his last 39.

Vazquez has Ivan Rodriguez-esque abilities behind the plate, but couldn’t keep the staff under control last year and cannot hit.

Swihart, who turns 25 April 3, is the youngest of the three, has the most potential at the plate, but is far and away the worst of the three defensively at the most important defensive position -- excluding pitcher -- on the field.

They all have their drawbacks, but they’ve all shown at some point why they can be the Red Sox starting catcher in the present and future.

Everywhere else, the Red Sox seem to be in a comfortable position as pitchers and catchers reporting to camp draws ever nearer.

“I think the fact that we’ve got veteran players that have done a great job in staying healthy [and] young players that are getting more establishing in their return, we’re in a pretty good place in terms of the overall status of our position player group,” Farrell told CSNNE.com.

And it seems some players are confident in the team’s options as they ready for camp.

“We’re looking good in a lot of areas,” shortstop Xander Bogaerts told CSNNE.com. “Especially the pitching staff, [since] we just got Chris Sale one of the best in the game.”

“Pablo’s definitely going to bounce back, especially with the weight he’s lost."

Francona, Epstein receive grand ovations at BBWAA dinner

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Francona, Epstein receive grand ovations at BBWAA dinner

BOSTON -- “I didn’t feel that love after I made a pitching change in the sixth inning,” Terry Francona said after a 45-second standing ovation from Boston fans upon receiving the MLB Manager of the Year award from the BBWAA Thursday.

It’s without question the love for Francona runs deep in the city. Why wouldn’t it? He was the leader in breaking the 86-year old curse, and wound up winning another World Series title for Boston three years later.

Actually, he was more of a co-leader, working alongside the same person who won the MLB Executive of the Year honors from the BBWAA for 2016.

Theo Epstein -- who received an ovation 17 seconds shorter than Francona, but who’s counting -- reminisced about the Red Sox ownership group that took a chance on a young kid who wasn’t necessarily the ideal candidate to take over as GM of a team, but now that’s helped him build the Chicago Cubs into a winning franchise and establish a great working environment.

This October marks 13 years since the ’04 championship, 10 years since ’07 and six years since the pair left Boston. Without question they’ve left their mark on the city and forever changed Red Sox baseball.

And while the fans showed their undying gratitude for Francona with an ovation almost as long as his acceptance speech, the Indians manager recognized the favor the current Red Sox brass has done for him.

“I’d like to thank Dave Dombrowski and the Red Sox for getting Chris Sale the hell out of the Central Division,” Francona said.