David Americo Ortiz Arias was born on November 18, 1975 in Santo Domingo, capital city of the Dominican Republic. (Click here for a complete listing of today's sports birthdays.). Early in his career, some questioned the veracity of this date. However, documents have since proved David’s age to be genuine.
The oldest of four children, David was always the calming influence in his family. Easygoing and easy to poke fun at, the youngster had a wonderful sense of humor. He made friends everywhere he went.
David was unwavering in his devotion to his parents, Enrique and Angela Rosa. His father—who went by the nickname “Leo”—loved baseball and played for years in Dominican pro and semipro leagues. David learned to love the game as much as his dad did. He attended games whenever he could and rooted for hometown stars like the Martinez brothers, Ramon and Pedro. When David was eight, Ramon made healdines with his pitching in the Los Angeles Olympics. Years later, Pedro would become one of David’s closest friends in the big leagues.
As a player, David’s
father fell into the good-field, no-stick category. David developed differently.
Tall and powerful, he was a strong athlete and a natural slugger. David
started swinging from the heels as a youngster and continued to embrace
this philosophy as he got older. When David entered Estudia Espallat High
School, he became a star in a second sport: basketball. Well over six
feet tall as a teen, he had the size, quickness and coordination to play
any position on the floor.
The Mariners scouted David closely and signed him as a non-drafted free agent in 1992, 10 days after his 17th birthday. He spent a season with Seattle's Dominican Summer League club, batting .264 with 35 extra-base hits in 61 games. In 1994, David joined Peoria, Seattle’s affiliate in the rookie-level Arizona League. Among his teammates were future major leaguers Wilson Delgado and Shawn Estes. The team was managed by Marty Martinez, a Cuban utilityman who played for six clubs in the 1960s and 70s.
In his first taste of pro ball, David struggled at the plate. In 53 games, he batted just .246 with two homers and struck out 46 times. David impressed in the field, however, flashing plenty of leather and showing surprising agility around the bag for a man his size. He led the league in total chances (393) and put-outs (372). It was at this point that baseball people began to eye David with suspicion. He looked too polished—and too well fed—for a Dominican teenager.
Back in Peoria for a second go-round in 1995, David shared the clubhouse with a new wave of Mariner prospects, including Ramon Vazquez and Joe Mays. At 19, David enjoyed the kind of year the Seattle brass had been expecting, putting together a 19-game hitting streak from June to July and finishing with a .332 batting average. He also topped the Arizona League with 18 doubles and 37 RBIs. David got it done in the field again, too. His .989 fielding percentage and 27 assists were best in the league. Seattle’s player development department recognized David by naming him his club’s MVP. He was also voted to the league’s All-Star team.
ON THE RISE
David earned a promotion for the 1996 campaign, joining the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers of the Class-A Midwest League. There, the 20-year-old established himself as one of Seattle’s most promising young stars. In 129 games, he hit .322 with 34 doubles, two triples, 18 homers and 93 RBIs. A Midwest League All-Star, he wound up second in the circuit in extra-base hits and total bases. Baseball America was among those who took notice, rating him as his league’s Most Exciting Player as well as its best defensive first baseman.
That August, looking to bolster their lineup for a playoff drive, the Mariners acquired Dave Hollins from the Twins for a player to be named later. Two weeks into September, Minnesota's brass informed Seattle that they wanted David.
David got the news at home in the Dominican Republic. While he took it with his usual upbeat attitude, he had reason to be pleased anyway. The Mariners already had a full-time DH in Edgar Martinez and a competent veteran at first base in Paul Sorrento. The Twins were unsettled at first, and their DH, Paul Molitor, was over 40 and due to retire in a season or two. When the Twins contacted David, he expressed his desire to make it big in Minnesota and let the team know that, from that point forwrad, he wished to be called Ortiz instead of Arias.
David started the 1997 campaign with the Fort Myers Miracle of the Class-A Florida State League and opened the eyes of manager John Russell immediately. David hit safely in his first 11 games, posting a .432 average with five home runs and 22 RBIs. He stayed hot through May, as the Twins named him the organization’s Minor League Player of the Month.
In June, the team
promoted David to the New Britain Rock Cats of the Eastern League. He
didn’t skip a beat against Class-AA pitching. In 30 games, he rocked
the ball to the tune of a .379 batting average. The Twins never figured
David would improve so rapidly but kept promoting him. In July, he was
bumped up to Salt Lake of the Class-AAA Pacific Coast League. His numbers
with the Stingers sagged, but Minnesota still rewarded him with a call-up
in September. David collected his first big-league knock in his second
game and went on to hit .327.
Despite David’s lack of big-league experience, the Twins planned to give him a long look in spring training of 1998. The other candidates for the team’s first base job were Orlando Merced, Scott Stahoviak and Doug Mientkiewicz, and manager Tom Kelly wasn’t particularly high on any of them. David, however, landed in Kelly’s doghouse when he demonstrated a lack of intensity in the field. The skipper began working personally with the youngster on his defense, as David continued to sting the ball at the plate. Kelly kept him on the roster, and the rookie responded with a seven-game hitting streak in April. Just when David began to feel comfortable, he fractured a bone in his right wrist. He remained inactive until late June.
After a short rehab stint in Salt Lake City, David returned to the Twins. Picking up where he left off, he homered in consecutive games against the Cleveland Indians. With Minnesota out of the picture in the AL Central, David saw regular time the rest of the way. One of the league’s best rookies, he finished the year at .277 with nine homers and 46 RBIs in 86 games.
As he had done in past winters, David returned to the Dominican Republic and suited up for the Licey Tigers. He and two other young major leaguers—Luis Catillo and Neifi Perez—formed the nucleus of a club that also featured Milwaukee Brewers prospect Ron Belliard.
The Tigers, managed by Dave Jauss, were one of the top teams in all of winter ball. They advanced to the Caribbean Series, and though David struggled early in the round-robin competition, he came up big when his club needed him. In the clincher against the Mayaguez Indians, he blasted a home run off starter Julio Valera to put Licey ahead 4-1. In front of their raucous fans in Puerto Rico, the Indians battled back and sent the game to extra innings. In the 12th, with lefty Eddie Priest on the mound, David sliced a double down the leftfield line that plated Castillo and Belliard with the tying and winning runs.
Bursting with confidence, David entered spring training in 1999 assuming a regular spot in the lineup was his to lose. He was right. After batting .137 with 12 strikeouts in 51 Grapefruit League at-bats, he was farmed out to get another minor-league season under his belt. An uncharacteristic dugout tantrum probably sealed his fate.
David was angered by the demotion, believing he had nothing left to prove after his solid '98 campaign. The Twins felt otherwise and asked David to tighten up his defense and show more plate discipline. The young first sacker, who now stood 6-4 and tipped the scales at 230 pounds, tore apart PCL pitching. In his first 24 games, he pounded seven home runs, each of which traveled more than 450 feet.
David spent the entire 1999 season in Salt Lake City and appeared in just a handful of September games for the Twins at the end of the year. Mientkiewicz, a slick-fielding prospect out of Florida State, nailed down the team’s first base job, while Kelly rotated several players in and out of the DH spot. David, meanwhile, made it hard to keep him in the minors. He led the PCL with 110 RBI, and tied for first with 68 extra-base hits (35 doubles, three triples and 30 home runs).
The satisfaction of a job well done was dampened when David’s September recall went badly. He took an 0-fer in 20 at-bats and fanned 12 times. Bothered by his poor showing, David went home in the off-season eager to put the finishing touches on his game. In the Dominican winter league, he nearly captured the Triple Crown, finishing first in RBIs (27) and second in batting (.320) and home runs (5).
Determined to stick with the Twins, David had a new bounce in his step in 2000. He worked hard on his defense, took extra batting practice and got himself into great shape. Coming out of spring training, he secured himself a regular spot in the lineup, splitting time between DH and first base.
Minnesota had no illusions about their chances in '00. The club had finished last in the AL Central the season before. Climbing out of the basement didn’t seem likely. Brad Radke was the ace of the staff, with youngsters Eric Milton, Joe Mays and Mark Redman filling in behind him. LaTroy Hawkins and Bob Wells shared the closer’s job. The everyday lineup featured a lot of raw talent (but little experience), including Jacques Jones, Cristian Guzman, Corey Koskie and Torii Hunter.
Nursing his young team along, Kelly could muster no more than 69 wins. The good news was that enough players had stepped up to give the Twins an exciting nucleus for the future. David made himself part of the picture despite a slow start. After establishing himself as an everyday player for good in early June, he batted .300 the rest of the way to finish at .282. David set career highs in hits (117), doubles (36), homers (10) and RBIs (63). He also held his own in the field, committing only one error in 223 chances.
The 2001 edition of
the Twins surprised baseball with a terrific season. The young offense
continued to develop, while the pitching was bolstered by Radke’s
decision to stay put instead of testing the free agent waters. Minnesota
broke from the gate quickly and held a five-game lead atop the AL Central
at the All-Star break. Unfortunately, the bullpen wilted under the strain
of the pennant race, and the Twins faded down the stretch. Still, with
85 wins, it was a heck of a year.
The Twins needed a difference-maker to stay in the race, and David might have been that player. But a fractured wrist landed him on the DL in May, and surgery delayed his return until late July. Still slowed by the injury, David did not have the old snap in his swing. That led him to chase a lot of bad pitches, and his production plummeted. He worked with Paul Molitor (now a Kelly assistant) and batting coach Scott Ullger, who helped him solve his problems. Thanks to a late-season power surge, he wound up with 18 home runs and 48 RBIs, but his average sagged to.234.
A few months later, tragedy struck David’s family when his mother perished in a New Year’s Day car accident. David reacted to the loss by throwing himself into baseball as never before. In spring training, he was buoyed by the outpouring of love and support from his teammates. New manager Ron Gardenhire, in for the retired Kelly, was one of many people who reached out to David and helped him deal with the death of his mother.
As the Twins prepared for the 2002 campaign, the conversation in baseball surrounded contraction. Commissioner Bud Selig talked openly about getting rid of two teams, likely the Twins and Montreal Expos. Minnesota would have none of it. Though Radke and Mays were injured, Gardenhire had a veteran arm in Rick Reed, and he also tinkered with the bullpen, making journeyman Eddie Guardado his closer and turning Hawkins into a set-up man. Youngsters J.C. Romero and Johan Santana figured into the picture, too.
On offense, the Twins got by without a traditional clean-up hitter. David was the logical candidate for the spot, but Minnesota wasn’t set on him. Despite the fact that the Twins were a better team when David played, Gardenhire was hesitant to put him in the lineup against good lefties. When David’s left knee started aching, the team was even more reluctant to pencil his name into the lineup.
David got the knee scoped in April and returned to the lineup in less than a month. Once again, however, it took him a while to rediscover his stroke. During one stretch, he went 43 games without a home run.
David locked in finally in the second half. He batted .419 with seven homers and 18 RBIs in the three weeks following the All-Star break, and the Twins built a comfortable lead in the AL Central. Minnesota cruised to its first division title since 1991 and silenced any further discussion about contraction. David put up the best numbers of his career, including 32 doubles, 20 homers and 75 RBIs, in only 125 games.
In the playoffs, Minnesota drew the mighty A's in the Division Series. Prohibitive underdogs, the Twins lost two of the first three before stunning Oakland with two victories to close out the series. David was quiet at the plate with a .231 batting average. In the ALCS for the first time in more than a decade, Minnesota faced the hot-hitting Angels, who didn’t cool down a bit after trouncing the Yankees. Anaheim took the series four games to one, slugging away at the Twins’ weary pitching staff. David appeared in every game, hitting .312 with a couple of RBIs.
MAKING HIS MARK
Eligible for arbitration, David was set for a pay raise from $900,000 to more than $2 million. For the cash-strapped Twins, he was a luxury they couldn’t afford. Despite numerous opportunities, David failed to convince the team that he could be counted upon for the .300-30-100 seasons they needed from a power hitter. Minnesota GM Terry Ryan shopped him around at the winter meetings but found no takers. The Twins released David in December.
Among those keeping an eye on David’s contract status was Pedro Martinez of the Red Sox. The two had become close friends over the years. In fact, David viewed Martinez as a kind of father figure. When the Boston ace lobbied Theo Epstein to sign his buddy, the GM listended, offering David a one-year deal with a base salary of $1.25 million. With few options in front of him, David agreed.
David’s role in Boston was not immediately clear. In Minnesota, he had become a full-time DH, partly because of his injury problems and also because of the Gold Glover Mientkiewicz. But the Red Sox had a glut of good-hit, no-glove corner players, including Kevin Millar, Shea Hillenbrand and Jeremy Giambi. Manager Grady Little had no idea whether any of those guys could be a full-time first baseman and decided to give everyone a shot.
Early in the 2003 campaign, David’s biggest impact was felt in the locker room. Boston’s roster was full of weirdos and head cases, including Nomar Garciaparra, Manny Ramirez and Martinez. David managed to get along with everyone, and his teammates marveled how easily he laughed off the sniping and teasing he endured as the new kid on the block. That may have been the first step in a process that would eventually galvanize this group of misfits into a championship team.
When Little and Epstein were convinced that David could handle the everyday DH role, the Red Sox shipped Hillenbrand to Arizona for reliever Byung Hung Kim. By August, David was a permanent fixture in the lineup. He thrived as his playing time increased, was great in the clutch, and absolutely killed the rival New York Yankees. David gave credit to batting coach Ron Jackson, who convinced him to wait a split-second longer at the plate, shorten his swing, and trust his quick hands.
In the final 97 games of the ’03 campaign, David batted .293 with 29 homers and 82 RBIs. Though the Yanks won the division handily, he garnered support as the AL MVP. Writers noted at his impact on the Red Sox, both on the field and away from it.
Boston entered the post-season under the motto, “Cowboy up!” The Red Sox opened against the pitching-rich A’s in the ALDS and split the first four games. With only one hit and no RBIs in the series to that point, David was a non-factor. In Oakland for the decider, the club looked for a boost from Martinez, who threw seven strong innings. Little, meanwhile, stayed with David, who delivered with a two-run double in the sixth. Boston’s bullpen did the rest of the heavy lifting, as the Red Sox advanced to the ALCS against the Yankees.
In Game 1, David homered in a 5-2 Boston victory. New York struck back in Game 2 behind Andy Pettitte and then won two of three in Fenway Park to seize the edge in the series. The Red Sox responded by battering Pettitte in Game 6 in the Bronx, setting the stage for a pressure-filled Game 7.
With Martinez throwing darts and David hitting a clutch home run, Boston came within five outs of its first pennant since 1986. In typical fashion, however, the Yankees tied the game and won it on a dramatic homer by Aaron Boone in the 12th. Red Sox Nation was devastated.
Boston retooled for the 2004 campaign. Little was replaced by Terry Francona, and the club acquired Curt Schilling to pitch at the top of the rotation and Keith Foulke to close games. The Red Sox also tried desperately to trade for Alex Rodriguez, hoping to unload Ramirez in the process. The Players Association nixed the deal, because A-Rod agreed to surrender too much of his salary. It turned out to be the best trade Boston never made.
The Red Sox offense was solid, but there were still some question marks. Could David produce big numbers for an entire season? Could batting champ Bill Mueller have half the season he did in 2003? Would Trot Nixon and Jason Varitek be big contributors again? Was Garciaparra’s heart in it after being all but traded to the Angels as part of the A-Rod deal?
Armed with a new two-year deal worth more than $12 million, David was determined to prove his MVP-like performance in '03 was no fluke. He opened the campaign swinging a hot bat and by late May was leading the AL in doubles and RBIs. The Red Sox, however, were muddling along. Garciaparra was sulking, and the starting pitching was horribly inconsistent. Despite a sizzling June by David (.365, 10 homers and 31 RBIs), Boston remained far behind the Yankees in the East and was also lagging in the Wild Card race.
At the mid-season break, David celebrated his first All-Star selection, happy for the recognition as one of baseball’s most dangerous hitters. But Boston’s poor play consumed most of his thoughts. When the season resumed in July, he attempted to fire up his teammates, erupting on the bench after a bad call in Anaheim. It would take more than an emotional outburst to stir the Red Sox. At the trading deadline, Epstein pulled off a blockbuster, jetisoning Garciaparra for a package of players that included shortstop Orlando Cabrera. The GM also picked up one of David’s old Minnesota teammates, Mientkiewicz, to help solidify the infield defense.
The Red Sox caught
fire after those moves and finished with 98 wins and the AL Wild Card.
David and centerfielder Johnny Damon continued to hammer the ball, Mueller
and Nixon returned from injuries, and Schilling dominated on the hill.
Boston actually put a scare into the front-running Yankees late in the
season, whittling down a double-digit lead to three games at one point.
Though New York held on for the division title, the Red Sox were picked
by many to stay hot and win the pennant.
David did nothing to disspell that notion in the ALDS. Boston squared off against the Angels and romped in the first two games in Anaheim. Back home for Game 3, the Red Sox blew a commanding lead after a grand slam by Vladimir Guerrero. David came to the rescue in the 10th, launching a two-run homer over the Green Monster for a series sweep.
The Red Sox dropped
Game 1 of the ALCS against the Yankees, as Schilling was hampered by a
painful ankle injury. Boston also lost Game 2, yet another demoralizing
defeat for Martinez against New York. Things got even worse when the series
moved up to Fenway, and the Yanks mauled the Sox 19-8. The Red Sox found
themselves in a hole that no team in baseball history had ever climbed
Boston chased history one game at a time. The Red Sox scratched back to tie Game 4 in the ninth off Mariano Rivera, and David won the contest three innings later with his second walk-off homer of the post-season. The following night, he delivered another walk-off hit, this time a bloop single that brought home Damon with the winning run in a 5-4 victory.
The series moved back to New York, and Schilling gutted out a win to force a seventh game. In the first inning of the deciding contest, David got the ball rolling when he lined a homer into the seats off Kevin Brown. With Derek Lowe spinning a gem, Boston cruised to a 10-3 win and a most remarkable pennant. David’s three homers and 11 RBIs earned him the ALCS MVP.
Some speculated that Boston would experience a letdown in the World Series. Matched against the St. Louis Cardinals, they bungled their way through the opener, surviving four errors to win 11-9. David lifted the team offensively with a home run and four RBIs. From there, Boston’s pitching took control, as Schilling, Martinez and Lowe shut down the hard-hitting Cards. Boston completed the sweep in St. Louis to capture its first title since 1918. The party back in Masschusetts didn't appear it would ever end.
Those who thought David’s '04 campaign was a career year were forced to rethink that position in 2005, when he blasted 47 home runs—20 of which either tied the game or gave the Red Sox the lead. David was a run-producing machine, with 119 scored and 148 driven in, which was tops in baseball. He hit an even .300 and led the club in runs, doubles, homers, walks, RBIs and slugging.
With Damon as the
team’s table-setter and David and Manny scorching the ball, Boston
scored a league-high 910 runs. Had the team’s bullpen held a few
more leads, the Red Sox would have easily won 100 games. As it was, they
took 95, the same number as the Yankees. New York was handed the division
crown by virtue of a better head-to-head record, meaning Boston got to
play the Chicago White Sox instead of the Angels in the first round of
The Red Sox tried to hold it together for 2006, but age and injuries caught up with them. They also wasted the best season of David’s career. He led the A.L. with 54 homers, 137 RBIs, 355 total bases and 119 walks—plus he had three walk-off homers and two other walk-off hits during the year. David had a particularly torrid July, belting 14 homers and winning Player of the Month honors. Still, Boston finished a distance third in the East behind the Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays with 86 wins. The team claimed the dubious distinction of having the highest payroll ever for a non-postseason team.
As the 2007 season
began, many experts were predicting another third-place finish for Boston.
They had added Japanese star Daisuke Matsuzaka to the starting staff,
but no one was sure what they’d get out of Wakefield, Schilling
and Josh Beckett. Jon Lester, a promising lefty, was recovering from cancer,
while the role of Jonathan Papelbon—the rookie reliever sensation
of '06—was unclear. Outside of David and Manny, the Red Sox batting
order lacked the fear factor it had in previous seasons.
Dubbed “Señor October,” David is itching to play some more October baseball. He has established himself as one of baseball’s special players. Supportive of his teammates, giving to the fans, and involved in numerous charities, he is an MVP even before he takes the field. His clutch hitting and looming presence in the middle of the Boston lineup gives the team a left-handed threat it has lacked since Mo Vaughn was in his prime.
Whether his great seasons represent the pinnacle of an amazing career or a glimpse of even greater accomplishments to come, David has already secured his spot in Red Sox lore. Forever to be remembered by Boston fans, he delievered what Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, Wade Boggs and Nomar Garciaparra could not—and has done more to excise the “Curse of the Bambino” than anyone living or dead.
DAVID THE PLAYER
David has the look of a classic slugger but doesn’t necessarily hit like one. He likes to use the entire field, a particularly effective approach in Fenway Park. David isn’t afraid to bat with two strikes either, happy to cut down his swing to spoil tough pitches. While his numbers are better against righthanders, he’s no easy out against lefties.
One of the reasons for David’s surge in production is his ability to turn on the inside fastball. He had loads of trouble with that pitch early in his career, but a tip from Boston batting coach Ron Jackson helped him solve the problem. David now opens his hips slighty when he steps into his swing. Because of his long arms, he’s able to cover the entire plate, and his quick hands allow him to handle hard stuff inside.
David has also become an extremely intelligent hitter. He can ascertain quickly how an opposing pitcher is trying to retire him and will change his approach at the plate during a game—and even during an at-bat.
Though he showed promise as a fielder in the minors, David is thought of almost exclusively as a DH. He’d actually like to play more at first, but don’t expect to see him very often with a glove on his hand.
David has proved himself a leader and a winner. He can be a rah-rah guy in the dugout and a practical joker in the locker room. His ability to keep a team loose is one of his great intangible qualities. Wherever he’s played, he’s been the most popular guy on the team.
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