BOSTON (AP) The Boston Red Sox want to send Big Papi out as a winner.
From the moment designated hitter David Oritz announced that this will be his last season, his team and teammates have been thinking about a fitting way to send him into retirement. Their conclusion: No specially commissioned rocking chair or autographed piece of the Green Monster would mean as much to their longtime leader as another World Series ring.
''Hopefully, that manifests itself in him going out on top,'' general manager Mike Hazen said on Thursday before the 77th annual dinner for the Boston chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America. ''That's what he's talked about. That's all he's talked about.''
When Ortiz came to Boston in 2003, he had just been released by the Minnesota Twins and the Red Sox were still stuck in an eight-decade championship drought.
The relationship has been fruitful.
The Dominican DH helped the franchise win the World Series in 2004, and again in '07 and '13. In the process, he established himself as a clubhouse leader, one of the top sluggers in the game and one of the most popular athletes in Boston history.
But since the 2013 World Series, in which Ortiz batted .688 to earn series MVP honors, the Red Sox have finished in last place in the AL East two years in a row.
''If you're a fan of the game of baseball; if you're a fan of the Boston Red Sox or a player for the Boston Red Sox, it should be pretty apparent what he's meant to this ballclub,'' Hazen said. ''Nobody wants to watch somebody like that finish up their career that way.''
On the day that he turned 40, he said in a video posted on The Players Tribune in November that he would retire after the 2016 season - his 14th with the Red Sox. ''Time is up,'' he said at the end, ''so let's enjoy the season.''
''He's trying to go out on top,'' said outfielder Mookie Betts, one of the 20-somethings who are expected to be the nucleus of the next Red Sox era. ''That's our goal: to help him go out on top.''
More than 400 people attended the dinner on Thursday night after the Red Sox finished last for the third time in four years. Red Sox award winners included Xander Bogaerts, the Thomas A. Yawkey Red Sox MVP and Ortiz himself for the ''Milestone Moment'' - his 500th home run.
Stacey Lucchino, a philanthropist and wife of Red Sox president emeritus Larry Lucchino, was honored by the Boston Sports Museum with a lifetime achievement awards. The chapter presented Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper with the Ted Williams Award as the top hitter in baseball.
But the highlight of the dinner was the presentation of the Tony Conigliaro Award for spirit, determination and courage to Cardinals reliever Mitch Harris, who postponed his major league career to serve five years in the U.S. Navy.
Harris, who made his debut at 29, thanked not only the Conigliaro family organization but also a Navy cook named Victor Nunez, who took the time to catch him while on his first deployment at sea. Harris recounted the struggles faced by Tony C., who hit 24 homers as a 19-year-old in 1964 but was beaned three years later and was never the same; he retired at the age of 30 and died of a stroke in 1990.
''It's the courage you show facing life's obstacles that determine who you are,'' Harris said.
Speaking before the dinner, Hazen and Red Sox manager John Farrell said they are excited not just about the push to bring Ortiz one more title but about looking beyond, to a team that centers around players like Betts, Bogaerts, outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. and utilityman Brock Holt.
''What we saw for the last six weeks of the season ... we feel pretty good about things,'' Hazen said. ''The clubhouse is going to transition at some point. These guys are going to take the lead and become the fabric of the clubhouse.''
Farrell also said he has met with Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval and reported that they are eager to arrive at spring training and erase the memories of a disappointing first season in Boston. Farrell said Ramirez will report with the pitchers and catchers to work on the transition to first base, and Sandoval has lost 20-22 pounds.
''He speaks very candidly about his desire to make amends,'' Farrell said.
Farrell also said he is healthy after undergoing cancer treatment and stepping aside for bench coach Torey Lovullo for the last six weeks of the season. Farrell, who was declared cancer-free by his doctors in October, praised Lovullo's work as interim manager.
''It's a matter of time before he's got his own team to manage,'' Farrell said.