The volume level and levity both rose the second David Ortiz strolled into the clubhouse on Thursday morning, unofficially marking the beginning of his ninth season with the Red Sox.
Ortiz walked into the room and gave hearty handshakes and hugs to pretty much everyone he crossed paths with. Big Papi could then be heard in a back room roaring, “I’m back.”
For all the attention that will be given to the elite newcomers — Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford — and the lineup this season, it remains clear that Ortiz still carries a large presence.
Oritz was honored that Crawford and Gonzalez were asking him for tips regarding life on and off the field as a member of the Red Sox.
“It’s my first day here and I’ve had a lot of questions asked already from those guys, and I’m happy to let them know how things go around here and make sure our fans get another good year from us,” said Ortiz.
The way Ortiz looks at it, the 2011 Red Sox just might be able to get back to the ways of 2003-05, when they used to overpower teams from an offensive standpoint.
“I think this offense can do some damage,” Ortiz said. “You went and got two hitters, they are troublemakers. They give a lot of headaches to pitchers. I was just in the outfield right now talking to C.C. and Gonzalez. It was funny that they were asking me about approaches, and I was like, man, ‘Nobody has better approaches than you guys.'”
So even as Ortiz comes into camp in a contract year, he seemed completely at ease, enthusiastic to see what will happen in 2011.
“I’m just going to focus on playing baseball right now,” Ortiz said. “Whatever happens happens later on. Right now, my goal is to have a great start and make sure we win another World Series this year.”
Though Ortiz didn’t get the multiyear extension he was hoping for this winter, he said he had no problems with Boston exercising its $12.5 million club option.
“I’m happy to be here and I think things went fine,” said Ortiz. “They did what they were capable to do at the time. We all agreed. It’s just a new year, a lot of expectations. Hopefully injuries stay away from the team. Last year, we had a tough year with injuries.”
Ortiz was one of Boston’s few stars who had a completely healthy 2010. His big issue was having a brutal April for the second consecutive season. Yet he again bounced back and wound up with his best production numbers (32 homers and 102 RBIs) since 2007.
So how does Ortiz get out of the gate better this year? For all the work he will do on his swing this spring, Ortiz concedes that his head will play a bigger role in the type of start he gets off to.
“I’m just not going to let that get into my head like last year. I know that I can go 0-for-20 like I can go 15-for-20,” Ortiz said. “It’s just a game. I think last year what happened was I kind of snapped a little bit at the beginning of the season, and it was because I don’t think it was fair after the second game of the season people having to doubt you. I guess that’s part of the game, and I’m not planning on going through that again. I think all I need to do is not think about it.”
But he will think plenty about his swing. And Ortiz now has another lefty slugger to talk things over with.
Gonzalez and Ortiz spent a lot of time during Thursday’s workout talking about the finer points of hitting.
“We were talking about approach versus lefties quite a bit,” said Ortiz. “We’re going to be talking a lot during the year. That’s what we were saying. We’re going to give each other feedback on things we might be able to pick up.”
While Ortiz has been a centerpiece of Boston’s attack since 2003, he might be able to stay under the radar a little more this year.
“Well, I don’t mind being under the radar. I’m part of this team and I’ve been here for years,” said Ortiz. “It will be crazy for the pitchers how they can focus on a lineup like that. You have a lot of good hitters, one behind another. I don’t think I’m going to have to be the guy people are going to have to worry about now.”
One area Ortiz hopes to improve on this season is hitting against lefties. Last year, southpaws held him to a .222 clip, with two homers and 24 RBIs in 185 at-bats.
“I have to prove that to myself and to everyone,” Ortiz said. “I hit lefties before and lefties normally are tough on lefties, but you have to figure your way out, and that’s what I’m going to try and do. I’ve been working on my swing. I know I can hit lefties.”