FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Big Papi was reflective, introspective, humorous, gracious, thankful, eloquent, expansive.
In a free-wheeling interview Tuesday, David Ortiz said that this will be his final season, just as he promised when he announced his retirement in November. Nothing is going to change that -- not even a season more monstrous than he’s ever had in his illustrious career, including the past 14 years with the Boston Red Sox.
“I don’t know how it’s going to be right after I’m done,” the 40-year-old Ortiz said in the first comments he’s made about his retirement since his announcement, other than speaking to a few Boston reporters in his native Dominican Republic in December. “I haven’t experienced that. But I think I’m ready to pass the torch, you know? I think right now everything is going in the right direction from when I let you guys know.
“For some reason, a lot of us kind of feel like we still got it in the tank to come back. Hopefully that’s not my case. I got some knowledge based on everything I want to do and what I have done. I look around me and everybody’s 20. So I think I’m ready. That’s why I announced it.”
No second thoughts at all?
“I thank God every day for giving me the opportunity to have the career I had,” he said. “I think everybody gets their moment. You feel like it’s time to go. At least I had the opportunity to do it. A lot of us don’t get that opportunity. A lot of us, we play the game until we get to be kicked out of the game. In my case, I know I can hit. You know, I know I can hit. I don’t know how much longer I can be able to do what I do.
“But through the season, I know how to feel things out. And that is important. To me, I think sometimes you go through the season and you see all the things around you. You see how you start feeling as you get older. You focus on all the stuff. Remember, I’m not the kind of guy that gets away with a bad season. Know what I'm saying? People always expect me to come in and do what I’ve gotten used to. ... And I'm not getting any younger."
"I look around me and everybody's 20. So I think I'm ready."
David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox DH, on his impending retirement
Ortiz sat on a bench outside the clubhouse at JetBlue Park, looking comfortable in a short-sleeve blue windbreaker, his cap turned backward. He never got emotional in what was an upbeat session with the media.
It was apparent that he is more locked in on winning a fourth World Series championship than allowing himself a stop-and-smell-the-roses experience.
“I’m not planning on putting a lot of pressure on myself, either,” he said. “Besides being my last season, I also know it’s a job I’ve got to continue doing. And let me tell you: That job is not an easy thing to do, either, so I’m just going to take things day by day and hopefully it’s not going to be any distraction for my teammates or the team or even for myself. I’m the kind of player I need to focus on what I like to do. That’s the only way I can play the game. I’m just not the type of player [who can] get away with not focusing. I’ve got to focus. I’ve got to be on it. ... I know there’s going to be a lot of teams out there trying to congratulate you and stuff. And I really appreciate it. But like I said, I don’t want it to be a distraction, so hopefully everything goes smooth.”
Ortiz said he hasn’t talked to Derek Jeter or Mariano Rivera -- or any other recent superstar who has retired -- about how to stay focused during the farewell tour to prevent it from spiraling out of control.
“I think that normally what they do is just pick a day to make sure you say goodbye to everyone and move on,” he said. “It’s not anything crazy. It’s not like we’re going to a city for four days and they’re going to be having a parade every day. It’s a one-day thing. They let you know ahead of the time. You thank the fans. I will give my appreciation to the fans.
“It doesn’t matter where we go to play. It doesn’t matter who you play for. I think as a player, you’ve got to be thankful to the fans for their support over the years. We make our living because of the fans. I’m a player that never forgot about that.”
The nine-time All-Star and 2013 World Series MVP enters 2016 with 503 career home runs -- 27th all time, and 18 behind Ted Williams, who’s tied for 19th with Willie McCovey and Frank Thomas.
Asked if he would like to go out like Williams, who hit a homer in his final at-bat in 1960, Ortiz said, “It ain’t that easy.”
When he does leave, his legacy is secure as far as manager John Farrell is concerned.
“I would look at him as a Hall of Fame player,” Farrell said, “and I would look at a guy who has got the ability to rise in certain moments. Or maybe the better way to say that is he didn’t let the moment take him out of his own game. When you think of great players, they are able to keep a calm heartbeat. Their pulse doesn’t race. They’re able to continue to perform in those most critical moments.
“I don’t know of anybody in Red Sox history -- or you’d be hard-pressed to find another player in baseball -- have moments in critical junctures of the game play out as David has. We’re fortunate to be on the receiving end of those, and it’s created lasting memories for all of us.”