By Jessica Camerato
CSNNE.com Follow @JCameratoNBA
The text messages came nearly every day. There were phone calls, too. As Darnell McDonald completed a recent rehab assignment in Triple-A Pawtucket, encouragement from the big leagues was consistent.
The source: David Ortiz.
It has been over a year since McDonald was called up to the Boston Red Sox last April and took a seat a few feet away from Ortiz in the clubhouse. In that time, the locker mates have developed such a strong friendship that Ortiz considers McDonald family. Ortiz refers to him as D-Mac, an abbreviation of McDonalds name; McDonald calls Ortiz Big Pun, a reference to the rapper Big Punisher.
Even though the designated hitter and reserve outfielder do not spend much time together on the field, their time spent away from the game has helped them both.
D-Mac is like a brother to me, Ortiz said. I knew him from before the Red Sox but we started getting to know each other since we started playing together. But it doesnt take too long to get to be familiar with a guy like him. Hes cool as hell, and on top of that, he hits you with what you want to hear.
McDonald, 32, had looked up to Ortiz, 35, for years before joining him in Boston. It didnt take him long, though, to sense there was something off about the dominating hitter.
At the time of McDonalds call-up, Ortiz was in a slump (he batted .143 in April 2010). The struggles were obvious to McDonald, and he wanted to help him break through them.
When I watched Big Papi on TV, he always has the patented spit in the gloves and clap, he recalled. He stopped doing it and I told him, When kids watch TV and theyre doing your stance, theyre doing the spit in the gloves and the clap. Weve got to get you going again, got to get your swag. Youre Big Papi.' "
McDonald paused, "He was acting like Little Papi."
McDonald offered Ortiz encouragement while he enjoyed success of his own. He hit a home run in his first at-bat with the Red Sox and made a name for himself by stepping up in an injury-hampered outfield. After playing in over 1,300 minor-league games since 1998, McDonald relished in his opportunity in the Majors. He batted .270 in 117 games last season.
His positive attitude was infectious and his teammate fed off of it. Ortiz broke out of the rut, hitting .363 in May and also finishing the season batting .270, thanks in part to the support of his friend who was rooting him on the entire time.
Hes always there for whenever anybody needs them, said Ortiz. Theres not a better teammate.
This season Ortiz got off to a solid start, but unlike last year, there were not as many opportunities for McDonald early on. Prior to Carl Crawfords recent hamstring injury, the Red Sox outfielders had been healthy for the most part. As a result, McDonald did not see as much playing time.
He appeared in 19 games, batting .143, before going on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left quadriceps on May 26. He was sent to the Pawtucket Red Sox for rehab assignment shortly thereafter.
Youve got to just try, said McDonald. Baseball is a humbling game, a lot of failure. Getting down about it isnt going to make it any better. Just watching how Pun goes about it every day, that helps everyone out because he doesnt panic.
This season Ortiz has been there to share his encouragement just as McDonald did for him. He didnt think twice to reach out while McDonald was in Pawtucket.
Me and Darnell, we go back and forth pretty much every day, talking, texting, he said. It was great to have him come back. I knew he wasnt going to be down there for too long.
McDonald smiled as he recalled the messages. During his rehab stint, Ortiz was named American League Player of the Week after batting .545 during a stretch in early June. As always, this didnt go unnoticed by McDonald.
He told me keep working hard, McDonald said. I was hitting him up too because he was swinging the bat real well, doing his thing, so I was telling him to go get his paper, too. It was just back-and-forth encouragement.
McDonald was activated from the disabled list on June 14 and saw action two days later, recording a hit, a run, and an RBI against the Tampa Bay Rays. Crawfords injury has created an opportunity for playing time as McDonald has appeared in six games since his return from Pawtucket.
Even though McDonald has not recorded a hit since that first game back against the Rays (.108 BA on the season), Ortiz is still in his corner.
I always offer support to Darnell, he said. I just tell my man to stay sharp. Hes going to have a hard time getting in the lineup because of the situation we have. Last year he played more because of the all the injuries and stuff. I dont know how he does it, though. I dont think Id be able to play like that because Im used to the everyday play.
While McDonald keeps a positive outlook himself, he appreciates the words of kindness from Ortiz. His advice meshes with McDonalds never too high, never too low mentality and means a lot to McDonald coming from a proven All-Star.
He taught me just be the same every day. Whether things are going good or bad, come to the field with the same approach every day, said McDonald. It means a lot. Thats Big Papi, you know? If Big Papi tells you something, you listen. Hes been around a long time, done a lot of things, so he always has some words of wisdom, always encouraging.
Its fun for me to come to the field every day and be right here next to Pun.
Jessica Camerato is on Twitter at http:twitter.com!JCameratoNBA