Just a Kid from Santo Domingo

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David Ortiz, Editor at Large - The Players' Tribune

A lot of people would not know the name “David Ortiz” if it wasn’t for my homie Pedro Martinez. I would have been just one of the hundreds of good baseball players from the Dominican Republic who played a few seasons in the big leagues, and that’s it. Back to the Dominican to play winter ball, and then you never hear a word about them again.

In December, 2002, just a few days before Christmas, I got a call from my agent telling me that the Minnesota Twins were going to release me. I’m a really happy guy by nature. It takes a lot to wipe the smile off my face. But I was absolutely devastated. It was like my world was ending. I was a 27-year-old platoon player. My daughter had just been born. Spring training was coming up, and it looked like I was done.

A few weeks later, I was sitting in a restaurant in Santo Domingo all depressed, slumped in the corner. All of a sudden, Pedro walks in. Of course he comes over to me smiling, all excited to see me, because we were cool from way back in the day.

He says, “What’s going on, homie? How you doing?”

I tell him honestly, “It’s not going good, man.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You didn’t hear? I got released by the Twins.”

“Wait, what?!”

“Yeah, I’m down here playing winter ball just waiting to see what happens.”

“Oh my God. This is amazing.”

“What the hell are you talking about, bro? I just had a kid. I don’t know what I’m gonna do.”

“No, this is amazing!”

“Why are you messing with me?”

“Hold on one minute.”

Pedro pulls out his cell phone and walks outside. At this point I’m thinking, Did I do something to this guy? What the hell is going on?

A couple minutes later, Pedro walks back into the restaurant and tells me that he just got off the phone with Theo Epstein, the new general manager of the Boston Red Sox.

“You’re going to play for us!” he says. “Well, actually, I just got Epstein’s voicemail. But I told him that you’re a special player and he’s gotta sign you. We need you, man. We need you!”

I’m like, “For real?”

He says, “For real, homie.”

Pedro pulls out his cell phone and walks outside. At this point I’m thinking, Did I do something to this guy?

He’s so passionate, so excited. I’m thinking to myself, Is he messing with me? This is Pedro Martinez. Why does he think I’m so special?

I say, “Thanks, bro, I appreciate it, but you didn’t have to do that.”

He can tell I’m really down on myself, so he sits down next to me and says, “Listen, you’re a great hitter. You know how I know? I threw you a cutter last season, high and inside. I threw it perfect — 92 miles an hour, jam-city. And you smashed it into the upper deck.”

I’m blown away that he even remembers. I go, “Dude, how come you remember that? You’ve struck me out a million times and you remember that?”

“Big guys never have the hand speed to turn on a pitch like that. I throw the inside cutter to big guys every single time. You’re the only one who’s ever hit a home run off that pitch. You’re coming with me to Boston, homie.”

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I will never, ever forget that night in the restaurant. It changed my life. Two days later, I got a call from my agent: “The Red Sox want to bring you in.”

They say the rest is history. But the rest ain’t history. A year and a half later, we won the World Series together. But there’s a lot of stuff that went on in between that you never hear about now. It was a long journey. When I first got to Boston, I wasn’t playing every day. I wasn’t getting a chance. When we were at home, Pedro would bring me over to his house almost every single day and we’d get something cooking. When you grow up in the Dominican, food is a special thing. When you’re hungry as a kid, you might throw rocks and knock down coconuts. You might climb a mango tree. Every real meal you get is special. You savor it and enjoy it with people you love. So Pedro and I were always cooking up something good.

That’s where I got my big-league education. In the kitchen. I went to school, man. I learned so much from just talking to Pedro about a pitcher’s mentality and how I needed to think on another level about every at-bat.

It was just love, you know? We became like brothers.

A month into the season, I was hitting pretty well off the bench, but I couldn’t get in the starting lineup. I snapped to the media one day after a game, and immediately Pedro took me aside and got me out of there. We went out to dinner and he said, “Look, let me take care of it. Don’t do that again. Just go about your business.”

I’m a World Series champion because of Pedro.

You know what he did? He went to the manager and told him that he wanted me in the lineup whenever he was pitching. Pedro put his ass on the line in order to give me a chance. He believed in me. How many guys would have done that?

I’m a World Series champion because of Pedro. He is the most loyal guy I’ve ever met in baseball. He cares about everybody.

When you talk about where I’m from, there’s a lot of harsh reality. The poverty, the crime. But the people are some of the most loyal, joyful people you’re going to find on Earth. We’re survivors. We just find a way.

When I was a little kid, we didn’t have money for real baseballs. So on Three King’s Day, my sister got a new baby doll. I figured she wasn’t gonna use the old one, so I chopped off the head and shaved all the hair off. It made for a perfect baseball. You know how I got the idea? I read that Pedro did it. I stole that trick from him.

The baby doll head would dip and dive when you pitched it because it wasn’t totally round. You had to track it as it was coming in. Listen, bro: If you can hit a baby doll head with a broomstick, you can hit an inside cutter. You don’t need a batting cage in the Dominican. You just have to love the game. And you need to be able to fight off your sister when she comes looking for her baby doll. 

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From Somewhere: David Ortiz (Video)

Before he became a member of the 500-home run club, a nine-time All-Star and a three-time World Series champion, David Ortiz was just a kid from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. This is his story.Photo by Clay Patrick McBride/The Players’ Tribune

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