FORT MYERS — David Ortiz was dressed in full uniform with a backward hat and coffee, giving pointers in the batting cage and nearby practice fields yesterday morning.
Trailing him like a shadow was J.D. Martinez, the man tasked with filling the void left by Ortiz two years ago in the middle of the Red Sox’ lineup.
Martinez wasn’t sheepish about his efforts to soak up everything Ortiz had to say.
“To me, the moment you think you know it all you stop growing and you start dying, in a sense,” Martinez said. “I’m hungry for information. That’s why I was sitting there during BP, the whole BP, I was like, ‘Let me just sit by him and just hear him.’ Because you never know. You might talk for 40 minutes there and there might be one thing you always remember. It was cool.”
Ortiz’ boisterous laugh and jubilant presence could be heard and felt from just about anywhere at JetBlue Park.
“We were just talking baseball,” Martinez said. “Nothing personal like that. Just talking shop.”
Ortiz lives in Miami now, but he’s only in town until Sunday. And with most of the Sox on the road for a game against the Houston Astros yesterday, Ortiz had fewer pupils in Fort Myers.
For Martinez, it was a chance to meet a player he’s long admired.
“Part of you feels like a fan,” Martinez said. “He’s just one of those guys, where it’s kind of like when I met Miggy. I was like, ‘That’s Miguel Cabrera.’ You love this game and you admire and respect talent, guys who have done it. Especially him. We kind of have a very similar story in a sense. Here’s a guy who was thrown out and to be here with him, it’s inspiring. It’s motivational.”
Both Martinez and Ortiz were released at age 27, and both went on to great success with their next teams.
Ortiz said that’s why he respected Martinez so much, proclaiming that his past failures would keep him motivated despite a new five-year contract for $110 million.
“You go through all that, trust me, you want to do something every time you wear the uniform,” Ortiz said.
Martinez knew that feeling well.
“My parents have always taught me to never give up,” he said. “If you dream it, go get it. Don’t take no for an answer. . . . It’s always been instilled in me, that hunger. When you fail, you get back up and get after again.
“I remember during that whole process (when released) people would always tell me, ‘You know, J.D., there are guys that have done it and guys who have come back. Look at David. Look at Jose Bautista. . . . So it’s possible.’”
Martinez knows he can’t be exactly like Ortiz. He’s heard stories about the way Big Papi functioned as a designated hitter, taking swings in the tunnel between at-bats or sitting in the dugout trying to visualize.
Martinez has never started more than 10 games in a season at DH, but he’s hoping to take something from Ortiz, Cabrera and another former teammate, Victor Martinez.
“The good thing is I’ve had Victor,” Martinez said. “He was a pretty good one to watch. . . . Victor and David just had it down. They were doing it for so long. Once you find your routine, you find your routine. I’ve had my same outfield routine for the last four years. So now it’s going to be finding that (DH) routine.”
With three more days to be around the Red Sox legend, Martinez intends to stay near him. But he knows he can’t ever replace Ortiz, or Big Papi’s style of DHing.
“I compare him to Miggy where they just know what they’re trying to do,” Martinez said. “I remember just watching Miggy, and this is how I envision David just because I asked around, where Miggy would just sit in his chair and he wouldn’t take BP. I’m like, ‘Miggy, you’re not taking BP today?’ He’s like, ‘Nah, nah bro, I’m just chilling.’ . . . He’s just sitting in his locker room with a bat in his hand and he goes, ‘I’m taking BP right now.’ Kind of like that mental visualization type thing. And that’s kind of how I envision David being, just with his personality and stuff.
“Victor wasn’t like that. Victor was a little bit more of, he had to hit every day. Victor was very studious. So you pick up different things. For me I have to find what is going to work for me. I don’t know what it’s going to be yet.”
Jason Mastrodonato | Boston Herald