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Passionate as ever, Papi motivated to win fourth ring

Slugger has chance to join 500-homer club this season, not worried about legacy

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Someone asked David Ortiz how much longer he intends to play. Innocent question, right?

"I don't know," Ortiz said while meeting with the media on Wednesday.

At least, that's how Big Papi started the answer. For some reason, though, the question seems to have struck a nerve.

Is someone telling him it's almost time to go? That wasn't the intent of the question, but still. Ortiz thinks of another New England icon.

"Guy had the same question to Tom Brady last year," he said. "I bet you want him to be your quarterback once again. All the trash people were talking about him, this and that.

"I was listening to that in the Dominican. We barely watch football over there, but I watched the Super Bowl. I was like, 'The media [is] not going to learn in Boston.' I'm very happy and proud of the Patriots, plus my man Brady. That was pretty awesome."

When it was pointed out that Brady has four championship rings to Ortiz's three, he smiled.

"I know," he said. "That's my motivation now."

And so begins Ortiz's 18th season in the Major Leagues. His first official day back on the field is filled with laughter and opinion, with optimism about the retooled 2015 Red Sox and with some thoughts about his legacy and an approaching milestone.

If things work out just so, Ortiz will be closing in on his 500th home run right about the time the Red Sox are attempting to clinch a playoff berth in September. He begins his 18th season -- and 13th with the Red Sox -- with 466.

Considering that he's coming off a season in which he hit 36 home runs in 142 games, he would seem to have a decent chance to become the 26th member of the 500-homer club in 2015.

"It seems like hitting 500 home runs is super tough," he said. "I have been consistent through the years hitting homers here and there. Still, I'm a ways from that mark. This offseason was the first time where I really, really give credit to those guys who hit 500 homers. It's a tough thing to do. It's something very special. I think it's something that once you get there, you've got to count yourself as one of the special guys that played the game."

Ortiz is one of the special ones whether he hits 500 or not. He's one of the faces of baseball, especially of this era of Red Sox baseball, an era in which the franchise won the World Series three times in 10 seasons.

On Tuesday, Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington said that Ortiz, 39, would remain the club's designated hitter as long as he wanted to be. Ortiz spoke on Wednesday about still having a passion and an anger to play the game a certain way. He talked, too, about not having the skills he once had.

No big deal there. He still does this one thing better than almost anyone who has ever played Major League Baseball.

"I signed a contract last year that basically tells me as long as you do what you do and keep on helping us out, you're going to play," Ortiz said. "I think it's fair enough. If I'm not having fun, if I don't keep on doing what I do."

When asked if Ortiz still had the passion to play after all these years, he smiled.

"You'll see," he said.

"In my case, I need to have that anger," he said. "I need to be who I am, so I can keep at the highest level. A lot of things come with that. Once that goes away, it's time to go away, too. That's why I don't have no date. I don't have no time. I don't have no years. We are here today, but we don't know what can happen near the end of the season. I'm just going to keep on playing and try to win championships. Whenever that goes away, I guess it's time to go, too."

Ortiz seemed unaware about baseball's new efforts to quicken the pace of play, but he didn't like the idea of not being able to step out of the batter's box. At one point, he summed up his feelings by saying, "I'm not going to change my game. I don't care what they say."

As for Ortiz's legacy, he's not quite there yet.

"Once you start thinking about that, you're thinking about stopping," he said. "I like to be motivated. Once you're my age, your mind starts running your body. I have been conservative lately more than earlier in my career. That counts toward the end. A lot of people don't know how tricky that gets. We run out of gas at some point.

"The experience you get in this game lets you know how smart you have to be to be consistent. That's the game that I play. I know that I don't have the skills that I used to have. But the one that I still have, I try to ride with it."

After an offseason in which the Red Sox added Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez, Justin Masterson, Rick Porcello and Wade Miley, Ortiz said, "I think our owner, GM and manager did a [heck of a] job this offseason putting this ballclub together -- and that's all they can do. After that, as a player, we've got to take over and get things done. They did what they were supposed to do this offseason. Now it depends on us how we're going to deal with situations during the season, how we're going to approach the game, how we're going to get prepared. Everybody's very professional around here, and that's all that matters."

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U.
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