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A side of 'Big Papi' that only Bostonians could love


Papi: My Story

By David Ortiz with Michael Holley

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

262 pages, $28

The date was April 15, 2013, Boston's Day of Infamy.

Everyone knows the basic details of that horrendous Monday afternoon: Two bombs detonated, 12 seconds apart, near the Boston Marathon finish line. Three dead, including an 8-year-old boy. Plenty of lost limbs and shrapnel wounds. And a five-day hunt for the two crazed Chechen brothers behind the blast.

One of that tragedy's heroes was a pro athlete, David Ortiz, the beloved "Big Papi"  of the Boston Red Sox. After their 11 a.m. Patriots Day game that day, the Red Sox headed out of town, but Ortiz stayed in Boston, sidelined with an Achilles injury.

The Red Sox quickly put a "617" jersey in their dugout (signifying Boston's area code) and pushed the phrase "Boston Strong." Back in town over the weekend, the Red Sox held a pre-game ceremony to honor many of the wounded survivors, emergency responders and other heroes. After the elected officials spoke, Ortiz delivered an unscripted comment that became the rallying cry for the battered city:

"This is our (blank)ing city. And nobody is going to dictate our freedom. Stay strong."

In his book "Papi: My Story," Ortiz recounts his thoughts and emotions that dreadful week, home in Boston without his team, mostly alone with his thoughts. Glued to the TV all week, he longed for justice, along with a plan to help heal Boston.

"On Saturday morning, my body felt fine but my soul was heavy. I thought of all the people who'd just wanted to have a happy day and instead were attacked with crude pressure-cooker bombs, packed with nails and metal. I thought of all the people who'd been frightened by what they'd seen and heard and were afraid to leave the house, afraid to send their kids to school, afraid of living. I thought of being an American citizen first, not just a baseball player, and our responsibility to abide by the rules of the country and to protect it."

That's the good, appreciative David Ortiz, the Dominican embraced by Red Sox Nation, for his infectious smile, his zest for the game and the apparent love and respect he engendered in teammates and opponents alike. (Confession time: This reviewer, a lifelong Yankees fan, always loved watching Big Papi.)

But this section on the bombing is clearly the highlight of a mostly ho-hum book. Sure, it's candid, almost to a fault; even most David Ortiz fans may be surprised by all the pettiness and whining.

Like his relationship with Terry "Tito" Francona, the almost equally beloved former Red Sox manager. You'd expect Ortiz and Francona to have enjoyed a mutual baseball love affair.
In 2010 at age 34, Ortiz was off to a slow start. Then in late April in a tight game, Francona pinch-hit for Ortiz with the bases loaded in the eighth inning.

Francona had been disrespectful that night, Ortiz writes. "Our relationship, which had been really good for five years, lost its core of trust that night. I knew we'd never be the same going forward."

Wow. It's true that Ortiz went on to hit 32 homers that year and drove in 102 runs. But to lose his respect for a manager over one probably ill-advised move in an early-season game seems really petty.

This and other anecdotes reveal Ortiz's true essence: a fabulous slugger, with a ton of personality, a beloved and outspoken figure who also had a huge chip on his shoulder.

Ortiz has a pretty remarkable story. Cut from a Florida Marlins camp in the Dominican Republic at age 16, he signed with the Seattle Mariners, who later traded him to the Minnesota Twins (for Buffalo native Dave Hollins). Six years later, in 2002, the Twins released him, leading to his signing with Boston. With the Red Sox, Ortiz won three World Series, earned a Series MVP, played in 10 All-Star games and retired last year after hitting 541 career home runs.

In his book, Ortiz saves most of his invective for former manager Bobby Valentine, a much-maligned baseball character. He also didn't like or respect his Minnesota manager, Tom Kelly, and he has some surprisingly harsh words, along with some praise,  for former Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein, the architect of the team's curse-breaking success.

Over and over again, Ortiz blasts the Red Sox for nickel-and-diming their own stars, while overpaying lavishly for free agents. To Ortiz, that cheapness equated to disrespect.

But lest we forget, Ortiz, perhaps the game's best-ever DH, earned more than $150 million in salary over his 20-year career.

Ortiz earns high marks for explaining the mindset of his adoptive home, Boston, including its obsession for its pro teams. And Ortiz is just brutal on the Boston media, especially the Globe, in possibly the nation's toughest media market on its teams.

Red Sox lovers and Big Papi's biggest fans probably will love this book. But his whining, especially over Red Sox management's disrespect for him, will turn off more casual readers.

One question remains: Why did Ortiz write this book?

Gene Warner is a retired News Staff Reporter

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