Former rivals A-Rod, Papi walk shared path
From teammates to co-workers, unlikely pairing continues 25-year bond 'built on trust'
DENVER -- Before there were laughs and chemistry on the FOX Sports set, there was a friendship that began more than 25 years ago.
As David Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez sat down to reflect on their shared baseball past and current television career hours before being part of the 2021 All-Star Game broadcast at Coors Field, they fed off each other as smoothly as they have hit home runs while they told stories of their lengthy history.
“That goes back to when we were teenagers, because we belonged to the same team in the Dominican called [Leones del] Escogido,” Rodriguez said. “It’s the red team. Then the blue team is [Tigres del] Licey. So it’s like Red Sox-Yankees, except we were on the same team wearing red. So I’ve known of Big Papi before he was Big Papi. But I always knew he had the potential to be Big Papi -- not only because of his skill, but because of just who he was as a person.”
Just as they were teammates early in their baseball careers, they have linked up again in retirement from the big leagues. With a combined four World Series titles, 17 Silver Slugger Awards and 24 All-Star selections between them, Ortiz and Rodriguez have been sharing the stage together for FOX Sports, where their dynamic shines.
Rodriguez enjoys the big personality Ortiz brings to work every day, noting he can elevate the energy level of a room from a five to a 10 as soon as he walks in. Ortiz has been gleaning insight into the broadcasting world by working with Rodriguez to finesse stats and information he wants to deliver to make it more digestible for the audience.
“To me, it would literally be like having Magic Johnson and Larry Bird on the set together, because they were rivals together, but they complement each other,” said Bardia Shah-Rais, FOX Sports’ vice president of production. “We didn’t know how close friends they were. David helps Alex become a little looser, and Alex helps David become a little bit more polished. So it’s a little bit of a yin and yang, and they both rise together that way.”
For as much as Ortiz and Rodriguez thrived on the competition and spotlight of dueling on rival teams as Big Papi and A-Rod, they are soaking up the opportunity to be colleagues as David and Alex.
“This guy, we’ve got so much history that we can talk about,” Ortiz said.
Rodriguez was in his fourth Major League season (and already a two-time All-Star) when Ortiz debuted with the Twins in 1997. Six years later, Ortiz signed with the Red Sox. The following season, Rodriguez was acquired by the Yankees. The longtime friends and former teammates were now on historically rival clubs.
Ortiz and Rodriguez faced off against each other while Boston and New York battled in some of the most epic moments in baseball lore. While they were vying for championships in action-packed on-field showdowns, there was a continued relationship behind the scenes.
When the Yankees were in town, Rodriguez went to Ortiz’s house for family barbecues. Forget about taxing a taxi back then, too. Ortiz gave Rodriguez rides to Fenway Park. Rodriguez described their relationship as “a two-way street ... built around trust.”
“We always have conversations about life, especially while we played,” Ortiz said. “People sometimes don’t realize that we go through a lot of struggles not only on the field, but off the field. So whenever he comes to town or I used to go in town, [we’d say], ‘Hey, let’s get together and have dinner, have conversation.’ All of a sudden, those conversations helped because we are not androids; we are human beings. That’s the side of the coin that people sometimes forget about.”
From baseball stars to baseball broadcasters, Ortiz and Rodriguez are having fun talking about the sport as much as they did dominating it. This time, on the same team.
“I knew Papi and his family would be part of my life well after baseball,” Rodriguez said. “I just didn’t know it would be so cool with the FOX family, and we’re enjoying it. We enjoy it just as much as we play, and we have a great time here.”