Taking the hits: Why Ortiz continues to play ball

191542.jpg

Taking the hits: Why Ortiz continues to play ball

By JessicaCamerato
CSNNE.com

There will be skeptics.

The doubters will say hes too old. The cynics will say hes past his prime.

It has happened before and its bound to happen again.

As David Ortiz begins the 2011 season, he re-enters the glaring spotlight of scrutiny. Every at-bat will be analyzed. Each strike out will trigger I told you so's. Ortizs production will be put under a microscope and watched meticulously by those who question whats left in the tank.

At 35 years old, he has already amassed millions of dollars, won two World Series, and made his mark on baseball as one of the games most clutch hitters.

Yet on Opening Day he will suit up to play his 1,597th Major League game.

Not because he has to, but because he still can.

This is our life, he told CSNNE.com. I still believe I'm capable to do damage. I'm just 35 years old. After all the steroid scandal happened, a lot of people don't believe that a 35-year-old can still play, which I don't know why people see it like that. But you've just got to keep on working hard and keep your mouth shut and just do what you're supposed to do in the field.

The reason why I keep on coming back is because of that, because I keep on doing what I'm supposed to.

With that ability to play ball comes the opportunity to share his talents with his teammates and the throngs of adoring fans who linger on his every swing.

The thought of walking away from it all and enjoying a life free from the pressures of being Big Papi doesnt even cross his mind.

No, he responded emphatically without hesitation. No, no, no.

Not when there is still work to be done this season.

Ortiz sat in the corner of the clubhouse in Fort Myers, huddled around a Tupperware bin that served as a makeshift table. Carl Crawford, Marco Scutaro, Adrian Gonzalez, and Kevin Youkilis pulled up chairs for a game of cards.

Jason Varitek glanced at the group across the room. That's camaraderie, he said.

When the game wrapped up, Ortiz reached to the top of his locker and pressed play on his stereo. Music blared through speakers. He let out a wide grin and bobbed his head to the beat. Darnell McDonald joined him for a few dance steps as the two shared a laugh.

Big Papis got that personality that attracts people to him, McDonald said.

Ortiz likes this team. He feels a unity among players that he believes will go far. After finishing 89-73 last season and failing to make the playoffs, Ortiz is optimistic for the 2011 club.

I think we can be very special this year, he said. We have so much talent and good chemistry. That will go a long way.

He continued, People sometimes get confused about chemistry in baseball. Chemistry in baseball, its not only everybody just gets along with each other. You have 25 men right there coming from different places, different ways of being educated, and things like that. Once in a while things are going to happen, but you know that chemistry is going to take over and make sure that everybody is cool with everything. Thats number one.

Number two, chemistry goes along with the winning way. When I see something that I feel that can help out any of the guys with, I will let them know. Its like the same thing when they see something that can help me out with to win the ball game, they will let me know. Thats chemistry. Having each others back, thats chemistry.

The reciprocal support has been vital to Ortiz over the years. When he succeeded, his teammates shared the victories with him. And when he struggled, they were there to offer encouragement.

He looks back to the start of the 2009 season when he batted .230 in April and .143 in May, hitting just one home run through the first two months. After breaking out of the slump and hitting .320 in June, Ortiz faced a steroid controversy that summer.

While some people questioned whether this was the end of the road for him, he never felt doubted by his teammates as he struggled at the plate. Ortiz finished the season second on the Red Sox in home runs and RBIs.

When I struggled really bad for the first two months, nobody was looking at me like, this guy's done, he recalled. My teammates, they were looking at me like, Hey, you'll be fine. Just keep on working. That can happen to anybody. And at one point I bounced back and I was right there with everyone. But it was because of that. You're not feeling pressure from your teammates, you're feeling support from them.

So Ortiz gives back to them. He offers advice, makes sure the younger players feel a sense of belonging, and welcomes new teammates with open arms.

You see the new guys coming in and they already look like theyve been here for a long time, and its because of chemistry, he said. A team that has no chemistry aint going nowhere. Thats what I think.

When Ortiz leaves the clubhouse and steps on the field, he feels the same sense of camaraderie with the fans. He has endured the ups and downs with Red Sox Nation for the past eight years. The enthusiastic cheers affirm his efforts and the heartbroken frowns motivate him for another title.

I think these fans deserve a World Series championship and even more, he said. You go around the league and definitely the Red Sox, we have the best fans here. Theyre very supportive. They love us and theyre passionate. If you dont have passion for the game, youre not going to get to where you want to be. And so I suffer with the fans here. I feel it.

Like when we lost in 2003, there were some times when I would walk to the plate and I would look at peoples faces when we were in that crazy situation, and I feel that fire. And thats why when we won in 2004 I was so happy, because I know the sad faces that I saw before, and they were going to be happy faces. And in 2007 it was more enjoyable. So I think another one right now, it would be right on.

Ortiz believes he can help the Red Sox can win it all this year. His fans believe the same.

He looks to avoid another slow start this season -- he hit .143 last April -- but isnt going to force anything. Ortiz aims to pick up where he left off in September, as he ended the season with a .270 batting average, a team-high 32 home runs (tied for 10th in baseball), 102 RBI, and 140 hits. He batted .250 during spring taining.

Youve got to go step by step so you can get to where you want to be, Ortiz said. You win games first to make sure you go to the playoffs. You execute in the first round so you can go to the second round, and so on.

As for the doubters who question his effectiveness this season, he only worries about what he can do at the plate. After all this time Ortiz, a .281 career hitter, is comfortable and confident in his own game -- and his role on the team.

I cant control what people say, number one, and people can't control what I do, he said. Thats just a small amount of people that come with negative things. On the other hand, you have the best fans right behind you and you have a lot of good people just looking for us to do well. So you shouldnt worry about the small group.

He adds, Every year you've got something to prove, especially in my situation as a designated hitter. I hear people sometimes talk about the DH position and they sound kind of pissed off about the situation. Like hello people, when I came here the DH was there already. People have been DHing since before I was born (laughs). So I just follow with what it is.

Ortiz admits that he didnt expect to have a Major League career of this length, and he didnt get this far by listening to naysayers.

Trust me, its not easy, he said of dealing with negativity. Thats why you see very few people at this job, because its not easy. On the other hand, I got to the point where I was like, Ive got to go out there with a smile when I come to my job and when people are around me. And thats why I try to be as nice as I can be with you guys the media, because we are blessed people. It cant get any better.

I never thought I was going to be 12 years in the big leagues. I had no clue about that. Im here today, and thats a blessing from God. So youve got to appreciate that and keep on moving.

As the 2011 season gets underway, Ortiz is ready for all the good, the bad, and the ugly that comes along with 162 games. Just as he has done year after year, he will embrace the support of his fans and block out the negativity of the cynics.

While it is uncertain what his future holds -- the Red Sox picked up a one-year option on his contract last November -- he knows what he is capable of doing this season.

I want to win another World Series here, he said. Especially this year because I dont know if this is going to be my last year here. So if Ive got to walk out of here, Id like to be like, Look, I won three World Series for my people in Boston and I was just happy to be part of the best group of fans ever.

What else can you ask for from fans besides what the fans do here to get you going?

And that still makes the game worth playing.

Jessica Camerato is on Twitter athttp:twitter.comjcameratoNBA

New MLB labor deal: All-Star Game no longer determines home field in World Series

New MLB labor deal: All-Star Game no longer determines home field in World Series

IRVING, Texas -- Baseball players and owners reached a tentative agreement on a five-year labor contract Wednesday night, a deal that will extend the sport's industrial peace to 26 years since the ruinous fights in the first two decades of free agency.

After days of near round-the-clock talks, negotiators reached a verbal agreement about 3 1/2 hours before the expiration of the current pact. Then they worked to draft a memorandum of understanding, which must be ratified by both sides.

"It's great! Another five years of uninterrupted baseball," Oakland catcher Stephen Vogt said in a text message.

In announcing the agreement, Major League Baseball and the players' association said they will make specific terms available when drafting is complete.

"Happy it's done, and baseball is back on," Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Brandon McCarthy said.

As part of the deal, the experiment of having the All-Star Game determine which league gets home-field advantage in the World Series will end after 14 years, a person familiar with the agreement told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal had not yet been signed.

Instead, the pennant winner with the better regular-season record will open the Series at home.

Another important change: The minimum time for a stint on the disabled list will be reduced from 15 days to 10.

The luxury tax threshold rises from $189 million to $195 million next year, $197 million in 2018, $206 million in 2019, $209 million in 2020 and $210 million in 2021.

Tax rates increase from 17.5 percent to 20 percent for first offenders, remain at 30 percent for second offenders and rise from 40 percent to 50 percent for third offenders. There is a new surtax of 12 percent for teams $20 million to $40 million above the threshold, 42.5 percent for first offenders more than $40 million above the threshold and 45 percent for subsequent offenders more than $40 million above.

Union head Tony Clark, presiding over a negotiation for the first time, said in a statement the deal "will benefit all involved in the game and leaves the game better for those who follow."

Key changes involve the qualifying offers clubs can make to their former players after they become free agents - the figure was $17.2 million this year. If a player turns down the offer and signs elsewhere, his new team forfeits an amateur draft pick, which usually had been in the first round under the old deal.

Under the new rules, a player can receive a qualifying offer only once in his career and will have 10 days to consider it instead of seven. A club signing a player who declined a qualifying offer would lose its third-highest amateur draft pick if it is a revenue-sharing receiver, its second- and fifth-highest picks (plus a loss of $1 million in its international draft pool) if it pays luxury tax for the just-ended season, and its second-highest pick (plus $500,000 in the international draft pool) if it is any other team.

A club losing a free agent who passed up a qualifying offer would receive an extra selection after the first round of the next draft if the player signed a contract for $50 million or more and after competitive balance round B if under $50 million. However, if that team pays luxury tax, the extra draft pick would drop to after the fourth round.

Among other details:

-For a team $40 million or more in excess of the luxury tax threshold, its highest selection in the next amateur draft will drop 10 places.

-While management failed to obtain an international draft of amateurs residing outside the U.S., Puerto Rico and Canada, it did get a hard cap on each team's annual bonus pool for those players starting at $4.75 million for the signing period that begins next July 2.

-There is no change to limits on active rosters, which remain at 25 for most of the season and 40 from Sept. 1 on.

-Smokeless tobacco will be banned for all new players, those who currently do not have at least one day of major league service.

-The regular season will expand from 183 days to 187 starting in 2018, creating four more scheduled off days. There are additional limitations on the start times of night games on getaway days.

-The minimum salary rises from $507,500 to $535,000 next year, $545,000 in 2018 and $555,000 in 2019, with cost-of-living increases the following two years; the minor league minimum for a player appearing on the 40-man roster for at least the second time goes up from $82,700 to $86,500 next year, $88,000 in 2018 and $89,500 in 2019, followed by cost-of-living raises.

-The drop-off in slot values in the first round of the amateur draft will be lessened.

-Oakland's revenue-sharing funds will be cut to 75 percent next year, 50 percent in 2018, 25 percent in 2019 and then phased out.

-As part of the drug agreement, there will be increased testing, players will not be credited with major league service time during suspensions, and biomarker testing for HGH will begin next year.

Negotiators met through most of Tuesday night in an effort to increase momentum in the talks, which began during spring training. This is the third straight time the sides reached a new agreement before the old contract expired, but a deal was struck eight weeks in advance in 2006 and three weeks ahead of expiration in 2011.

Talks took place at a hotel outside Dallas where the players' association held its annual executive board meeting.

Clark, the first former player to serve as executive director of the union, and others set up in a meeting room within earshot of a children's choir practicing Christmas carols. A man dressed as Santa Claus waited nearby.

Baseball had eight work stoppages from 1972-95, the last a 7 1/2-month strike in 1994-95 that led to the first cancellation of the World Series in 90 years. The 2002 agreement was reached after players authorized a strike and about 3 1/2 hours before the first game that would have been impacted by a walkout.

The peace in baseball is in contrast to the recent labor histories of other major sports. The NFL had a preseason lockout in 2011, the NBA lost 240 games to a lockout that same year and the NHL lost 510 games to a lockout in 2012-13.