Ortiz still hungry, but ready 'to pass the torch'

Slugger aims to end career with one more World Series ring

February 23rd, 2016

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Sounding nostalgic at times and determined at others during a near 35-minute news conference on Tuesday, Red Sox slugger David Ortiz expressed his thoughts on what he hopes will be a fulfilling final season in the Major Leagues.

Ortiz announced on Nov. 19 -- his 40th birthday -- that this will be his last season. Three months later, is Big Papi sure he is making the right decision?

"I think I am," said Ortiz. "I thank God every day for giving me the opportunity to have the career I had. Everybody gets that moment when you feel like it's time to go. At least I had the opportunity. A lot of us don't get that opportunity. A lot of us, we play the game and we get to be kicked out of the game.

"In my case, I know I can hit. I don't know how much longer I can be able to do what I do."

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For Ortiz, the yearly pressure of living up to his own lofty standards played at least some role in his decision to walk away after this season.

"I'm not the kind of guy that I get away with a bad season," said Ortiz. "People are always expecting me to come in and do what I got them used to. It has taken a lot away from me to continue to be a guy at that level. I'm not getting any younger."

In truth, nobody knows what retirement is going to feel like until it happens.

"I don't know how it's going to be right after I'm done. I haven't experienced that, but I think I'm ready to pass the torch," Ortiz said. "I think right now everything is going in the right direction, so I'll let you guys know [after].

"I've seen a lot of athletes, once they're done, at some point, for some reason, a lot of us kind of feel like we still got something in the tank to come back. Hopefully that's not my case. Plus, I look around me and everybody is 20. I think I'm ready."

If for some reason Ortiz changed his mind, the Red Sox probably wouldn't argue.

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"I've teased him about it," said Red Sox chairman Tom Werner, "but I think this will be his last season. Who knows what happens if he performs all-world? With what he's done, we'll honor his decision and we're going to celebrate it."

Yes, there will be celebrations -- none bigger than the one that takes place at Fenway Park at the end of the regular season.

However, Ortiz vowed multiple times that he will do his best not to be a distraction. And he made it clear that one team goal will outweigh anything personal in his last go-around.

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"I've had seasons where I've hit 50 homers and you end up going home. Who cares? But I've had seasons that I hit 30 homers and I walk home with the crown," Ortiz said. "I care about that, because people continue talking into the following year about it, you know what I'm saying? For me personally, that's all that matters, is winning, walking home with that 'W,' and sitting down and after the season being like, 'Wow, that was a hell of a season. We ended up winning. We ended up giving the fans what they were expecting us to do.'"

The byproduct of the Yankees missing the postseason in 2013 and '14 is that Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter were fully able to soak in the finality of their careers. Ortiz will gladly trade another trip to the postseason over the certainty of when his career will end.

"Don't think that because I'm retiring after this season that I'm not hungry," said Ortiz. "I'm still hungry. I was going at it this offseason just to come in and have another good season. And I'm going to be pushing my teammates the best I can, the best possible. Hopefully I do not know when my last at-bat is going to be, because I want to go to the postseason."

Though Ortiz's statistics have been impressive and record-breaking for a DH, his career will be identified most for big moments in the month of October.

As fitting as it was for Ted Williams to end his career with a home run, Ortiz would most like a walk-off parade.

"He wants to go out on top," said Werner, "and I hope this is a year in which we can play baseball as deep into October as possible to give him a great send-off. I feel little wistful, because this is his 13th year with us and what he's accomplished is hard to articulate.

"He certainly looks like he's in fantastic shape. I remember there that was that one year he didn't get off to a great start and everybody felt he was on the back end of his career. If he can just put up the numbers that he put up last year, everyone will be delighted. He's such a professional. He's come into camp looking great and I'm very optimistic."