By Jessica Camerato
CSNNE.com Follow @JCameratoNBA
BOSTON -- Before the Home Run Derby, before the World Series championships and All-Star Game selections, David Ortiz and Robinson Cano met for the first time at a baseball stadium in the Dominican Republic.
Ortiz was in his 20s looking for playing time on the Minnesota Twins. Cano was a teenager aspiring to follow in his footsteps and make it to the Major League.
A bond began that day over ten years ago. And as the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees square off this weekend at Fenway Park, their friendship is still strong while they battle for control of the AL East standings.
Ortiz wasnt always the superstar he is today in Boston, but that didnt matter back home in the Dominican Republic. There, countless children looked up to him and saw him as an example of what can happen with hard work. Cano was one of them.
He was so cool and nice, Cano told CSNNE.com of their first meeting. He is the same guy that he was 10, 11 years ago. I told him I was a big fan and I loved the way he played. He wasnt as big as he is now because with Minnesota he didnt play every day because he had Doug Mientkiewicz back in the day. Now look who he is. Back then he was David Ortiz. Now hes Big Papi.
Ortiz noticed something special in Cano, too. There are plenty of athletes who have talent but lack the dedication to take it to the next level. Cano was different. Ortiz immediately recognized a sense of maturity and awareness of the hard work that lay ahead.
Hes always been one of my favorites, Ortiz told CSNNE.com. Im so happy to watch his success and its because hes a great kid. I always try to encourage him to do the right thing and make sure that he works hard every day so it will pay off because thats the only way you can see the results of good things when you put in some pretty hard work. I always try to make sure because hes a great kid.
Cano was signed by the Yankees as a free agent in 2001. Four years later, he made his Major League debut. By that point, Ortiz had already won a World Series with the Red Sox and had earned a regular playing role. The two were reunited on opposing sides of baseball's biggest rivalry, yet that never got in the way of their relationship.
Often times when the Yankees come to Boston, Ortiz will invite Cano to his home for dinner. When the Red Sox are in New York, they will go out to eat together. Then there are the phone calls and text messages exchanged throughout the season.
He became like a big brother, said Cano. He always gives me advice to remember where you are. You arent there because they gave it to you. You earned it. You worked hard - dont forgot how hard you worked to get here. Those are the kinds of things where its always good to have someone remind you of the little things that keep you in the game for a long time.
Today Ortiz and Cano are two of baseballs hottest hitters. Now 28 and in his seventh Major League season, Cano entered Friday's game hitting .301 with 18 homeruns and 75 RBI. Ortiz, 35, has a .289 batting average with 20 homeruns and 70 RBI.
This season Ortiz called on Cano to participate on the American League team in the Home Run Derby. Cano was honored to be asked to compete and returned the favor by taking home the trophy. Both players were happy with the outcome, even if it meant Cano ousted Ortiz, the defending champ.
In the moment you dont feel anything, but after that you look back and you see youve got Prince Fielder, Adrian Gonzalez, Matt Holliday, Rickie Weeks, Jose Bautista, said Cano. So you look back and you say, Wow, Im the one that had less homeruns in the season and I won the Derby. But the best thing was it was fun, you get to spend time with them in the same clubhouse, on the field, you get to joke a lot, which is good.
Ortiz didnt have to ask Cano to be on his team for Cano to appreciate the significance of their friendship. His kindness over the years has inspired Cano to reach out to younger Dominican players in baseball as well. Cano knows that he has a mentor, a confidant, and a loyal friend in -- ironically -- his American League rival.
It means somebody that not only talks to you because of who you are, but somebody who cares about you, gives you advice, things that help you in your career on and off the field, Cano said. Thats the best thing.
Ortiz is happy to fill those roles.
I look at him like a little brother, said Ortiz. Its great. I really try to get along with everybody around me and since the first time I saw him, I saw how hard he was trying to be a good player and came to be who he is today. I always have open hands for people like that.
Jessica Camerato is on Twitter at http:twitter.comJCameratoNBA