After missing most of the second half last year due to injury, David Ortiz has rebounded in All-Star fashion this year. (AP)
David Ortiz stepped into the batter's box in a sold-out Citi Field, gripped his bat and went into his customary crouch, waiting for the pitch. From the mound came a batting-practice fastball, straight down the middle. Ortiz pulled back, took a mighty swing ... and came up with air.
Or at least, the virtual David Ortiz taking hacks at the Home Run Derby in MLB: The Show on PlayStation 3 was coming up empty. The real David Ortiz was sitting in a black leather chair in the MLB Fan Cave in New York City, gripping a controller and loudly expressing his confusion at his avatar's inability to do what he's done 420 times in the majors and countless other times in batting practice. Finally, after some thought, he hit upon a possible answer.
"Am I facing Mariano Rivera in this?" he asked the crowd around him, getting nothing but laughs in return.
In town for the All-Star Game—which he'll be appearing in for the ninth time in his career—the Red Sox' star designated hitter had stopped by the Fan Cave along with fellow All-Star and AL East slugger Joey Bautista of the Blue Jays as part of a promotional event for MLB and New Era. Wearing the jersey and official Diamond Era cap he'll be sporting on the field for the game, Ortiz took some time in between his Home Run Derby battle with Bautista (who, it should be noted, won with surprising ease) to answer some questions about the Red Sox, playing under John Farrell as opposed to Bobby Valentine, and whether he thinks he'll finish his career in Boston.
STRIKE ZONE: You had probably the most popular speech in all of Boston this year. Got anything planned for the All-Star Game for your team?
ORTIZ: Every year, I always have a little speech with my boy Ichiro. I like to get him started, but I don't know, I'm going have to pick on somebody else.
SZ: Yeah, because he's not here this year. Are you just going to do his speech for him?
BAUTISTA: You should do the Ron Washington speech. (laughs)
SZ: Is that something we can print?
BAUTISTA: It'd have a lot of bleeps.
ORTIZ: A lot.
SZ: Speaking of, what is your favorite curse word?
ORTIZ: I think you already know. Something, uh ... f---ing city.
SZ: You entered the All-Star break with a .317 average, 19 home runs and 65 RBIs. What do you think is helping you this season in terms of performance?
ORTIZ: I think I'm putting my experience more in play. What I've learned through the years ... you get yourself out more than pitchers normally do, because they always try to do the same thing against you. You know, most of the time they stay away and try not to let you pull the ball. They feel comfortable throwing strikes away from me. If you give something to get something, I think the benefit you're going to get in exchange is more consistency than usual.
SZ: So a lot of preparation in the offseason.
ORTIZ: Yeah, preparation. I'm pretty sure my boy Joey does the same thing I do when he comes out to hit. We work consistently on our swing, we work consistently in the strike zone, and the one pitch that you prepare for, you can't miss it, because you're probably not going to see it again.
SZ: What's the one pitch that gives you the most trouble?
ORTIZ: They all do, at some point. It's so dependent on what you've got on your mind at the time. If you're looking for a changeup against a pitcher and he throws that changeup, you're going to hit it regardless. It's like when you're looking for a slider, when you're looking for a breaking ball, when you're looking for a fastball. It's all dependent on the guy you face.
SZ: At 58-39, the Red Sox have the most wins in baseball right now, one more than the Cardinals. I don't know if you expected that coming into the season after your team lost 93 games last year. Is this a surprise for you?
ORTIZ: To be honest with you, if I tell you that I'm not surprised, you probably don't believe me, but when I walked into the clubhouse in spring training and saw the enthusiasm coming from all the guys, I think that even kind of helped me out to recover faster from my [heel] injury and try to be with the big ballclub at some point. Everybody was on the same page, everybody was trying to make things happen, everybody was excited about being with the Red Sox, some of the newcomers, and some of the guys that were injured last year, they were happy to be healthy. There were a lot of good things going on. At the same time, we had a new manager, he has done pretty much everything for everybody, he wants to know how you feel every day, what he can expect every day from you.
SZ: What's it like to have John Farrell as the manager as opposed to Bobby Valentine last year?
ORTIZ: What can I tell you? They are like two different people. John is more of a going through the rhythms kind of guy, not trying to create any controversy. He pretty much gets along with everybody. I didn't have any problems with Bobby last year at all, but I thought he had a lot of issues with a lot of players, and I knew that wasn't going to work out.
SZ: Who do you think's been the biggest surprise on the entire team?
ORTIZ: We have a couple of guys that have been doing a good job for us. [Daniel] Nava's been doing great for us. Jonny Gomes, he's been doing unbelievable, he's a trooper. Then you go to [Andrew] Miller in the bullpen, we kind of lost him for the year. He was doing great for us. [John] Lackey came back healthy, [Clay] Buchholz is coming back right after the break, [Jon] Lester … I mean, we have a lot of guys putting it together, and we have a group of guys where everybody does something different every day to win a ballgame.
SZ: You've been in Boston since 2003. Is retiring there something you can see happening?
ORTIZ: Yeah, I think so. Boston is the place where I've been for more than a decade, and I'm kind of used to the ballgame there. People there are used to me, and I'm used to them, and I know how to get prepared to help to win ballgames there, and hopefully everything works out there until the last day I play.
Correction: This post was edited to clarify that the Red Sox have the most wins in baseball, not the best record.