Twins honor Ortiz in final return to Minnesota
MINNEAPOLIS -- David Ortiz has been tormenting the Minnesota Twins for the last 14 seasons, since they infamously released him as an injury-prone designated hitter still finding his way in the major leagues.
The Twins paid their formal respects Friday in a brief pregame ceremony for the burly Boston slugger, marking the final visit to Minnesota as a player for the soon-to-be-retired Ortiz.
"You know he's getting old if he was a teammate of mine," said Twins manager Paul Molitor, who was 41 and in his second-to-last season when Ortiz made his debut for Minnesota in 1997 as a 21-year-old.
Former Twins teammates LaTroy Hawkins, Torii Hunter and Corey Koskie were at the ballpark with ex-manager Ron Gardenhire to help honor Ortiz, who has been steadfast in his declaration that this is his last season.
His ageless, astounding performance in 2016 has so far been worthy of a 10th All-Star Game selection if not his first American League Most Valuable Player award, with an AL-most 26 doubles and 55 RBI entering Friday. His .338 batting average ranked third, and he was tied for fourth with 16 home runs.
"Not surprised at all. I worked for it," Ortiz said in the dugout before the game. "My mind is still the same, and I'm still going at it the same way."
Twins general manager Terry Ryan shrewdly traded third baseman Dave Hollins to the Seattle Mariners in 1996 for Ortiz, but the deal was canceled out six years later when he was released. Ortiz entered the series with 20 home runs, 21 doubles, 52 RBI and a .323 batting average in 67 career games against the Twins.
"Obviously it was a mistake on my behalf," Ryan said, "and I've owned up to it way too many times."
Ortiz hit .288 with 31 homers and 101 RBI for the Red Sox in 2003, and the rest was history with only a handful of rocky seasons along the way far overshadowed by three World Series titles. Ortiz was the 2013 World Series MVP, and he has hit 461 of his 519 career home runs for Boston.
"They wanted him to retire seven years ago, and now that he wants to retire, nobody wants him to retire," Hunter said. "I definitely think to go out on top, that's the way to go."
Ortiz has been critical of the Twins organization for an insistence then that he prioritize contact over power. He was hurt by the decision to dump him. Speaking in the dugout before the game, though, Ortiz was in a complimentary and reflective mood. He said "Minnesota has always been a great place to be," particularly now that the Twins play in the open air of Target Field after leaving the Metrodome and its artificial turf.
"I'm always going to really appreciate the fact that the Twins gave me the opportunity to come to the big leagues and experience what this is all about," Ortiz said. "The one thing that I can tell you about the Twins organization is the way they teach us how to play the game. Very respectful. They want you to be prepared every single day. Very fundamental. That's something that I have never had walk away from me."
Ortiz was touched by the presence of his former teammates, with whom he shared lunch downtown earlier in the day while regaling them with stories past.
"Minnesota is always down low, you know? I like walking around Minnesota. They don't even know who I am," Ortiz said.
The Twins played a highlight video on the scoreboard of some of Ortiz's memorable home runs, powered by his exaggerated left-handed uppercut swing, and announced a $10,000 gift in Ortiz's name to the Puckett Scholars financial aid program at the University of Minnesota. Ortiz's admiration of the late Kirby Puckett, who retired in 1996 because of glaucoma, fueled his decision to pick uniform No. 34 when he joined the Red Sox. Puckett's son and daughter greeted Ortiz at home plate.
Then came the roast, with a gag presentation of a personalized 64-ounce jar of peanut butter -- "Super Hunk" -- to Ortiz. Koskie once pranked Ortiz in spring training by spreading peanut butter in his underwear, which Ortiz put on unknowingly until realizing the mess as he reached the clubhouse door.
"Those days were fun," Ortiz said. "We were kids."