BOSTON – David Ortiz missed nearly half of last year’s disastrous Red Sox season with a heel injury. Then he was sidelined with it throughout spring training and the start of this season.
There were whispers that the slugger who had won two World Series titles with Boston was at the end of the line.
And Big Papi heard them.
“People are always going to talk trash,” the slugging designated hitter said Tuesday. “You’re never going to make everyone happy, so what you do is just come in, do your thing and what can those people do about it? In my case, I’m done putting attention to what people have to say.”
They’ve been saying nice things going into tonight’s opener against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Ortiz led the Red Sox with a .309 batting average, 30 homers and 103 RBIs this season. In Game 2 of the AL championship series against the Detroit Tigers, he hit a game-tying grand slam in the eighth. Boston won 6-5 on Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s RBI single in the ninth.
But Ortiz makes a huge contribution off the field with his bubbly personality and winning smile.
Cardinals reliever Randy Choate saw that when he was playing baseball in the Dominican Republic in the offseason.
“We had a pickup softball game, it was an off day, and we were all hanging out,” he said. “I remember he hit one, literally, 500 feet. It was unbelievable, but he was just there having a good time and hanging out with everybody, being down to earth.”
The Red Sox’s 69-93 record in 2012 was their worst in nearly half a century. Ortiz hit .318 with 23 homers and 60 RBIs in just 90 games.
When Ortiz’s heel injury persisted in spring training, the fans’ worries continued. But not for the players.
“We knew what was going on,” Red Sox outfielder Daniel Nava said. “Obviously, you can’t relay everything to the public, so since we had the inside track I wasn’t worried.”
Now he has a chance for his third championship in 10 years.
“I don’t think I would be overwhelmed facing him,” starter Joe Kelly said. “I just see him as another big power left-handed hitter like Adrian Gonzalez. He’s just another guy who can do damage with guys on base if you’re not careful.”
Joaquin Benoit wasn’t careful.
So Ortiz tagged the Tigers closer for the grand slam that turned around the ALCS.
“I think even without that, you knew that he’s going to have the opportunity to make a huge impact with one swing,” he said.