Hanley Ramirez opens up on former Red Sox teammate David Ortiz: 'He's my everything'

by: John Tomase on Thu, 02/16/2017 - 11:56am

Hanley Ramirez (right) will miss former teammate David Ortiz. (Neville E. Guard/USA Today Sports)Hanley Ramirez strolled into JetBlue Park on Thursday morning wearing a No. 34 David Ortiz t-shirt stretched tight over his sculpted muscles. A reporter told him he resembled Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower.

"Hey, he's really good!" Ramirez exclaimed before shaking hands with pretty much everyone in sight -- teammates, reporters, PR staff, trainers, clubbies. He flashed a gleaming white smile. He exuded confidence, personality and positivity.

If you were laying eyes on him for the first time, you'd think this was the unquestioned leader of the Red Sox and a foundational bedrock. You'd think he was a fan favorite and a seen-it-all veteran. 

You'd think he was David Ortiz.

But Ramirez is not Ortiz, and he knows it. The presence of Big Papi permeated everything Ramirez did and said on his first day in Red Sox camp, starting with his gregarious entrance and continuing to his new locker, the one at the end of the row that had belonged to Ortiz since the Red Sox opened this place in 2012. Ortiz had requested the clubhouse staff reserve it for Ramirez.

Then Ramirez took his seat at the picnic table where star players traditionally hold their opening press conferences and proceeded to unload his unvarnished feelings for the man he considers, "my big brother I don't have," sounding alternately proud, wistful, energized, and more than a little sad.

"He's my everything," Ramirez said. However schmaltzy the sentiment, it felt sincere coming from a man with 24-inch biceps who can hit a baseball 440 feet to dead center.

But Ramirez was just getting started.

"He's still my man," he said. "I'm still waiting for him to walk into that clubhouse with that big smile, hugging everybody, showing that energy around everybody. I'm still talking to him every day, every day, and he's still the same guy, always joking around, thinking that he's like 23 when he's not, but that's the good thing about him -- he's always happy, and he makes everybody around him happy."

Ramirez must've gotten half a dozen questions suggesting he could fill that void, but he knows better.

"I can't jump that high," he said at one point.

"That's too heavy. That's too heavy," he said at another.

A year ago, Ramirez arrived with more to prove even than eventual Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello. He had been a disaster in left field, coaches questioned his work ethic, and he looked like an $88 million bust. Add his history of run-ins with managers in Florida and Los Angeles, and his reputation as a disgruntled teammate, and he felt like a lost cause.

But then he took to first base. He said all the right things. He lost the bulk that had hurt him in 2015. He assumed an entirely new persona. And somehow, at age 32, it stuck.

Ramirez was a good teammate all season and an even better hitter. He batted .286 with 30 homers and 111 RBIs, establishing himself as Ortiz's successor at DH. 

Can he replace Ortiz in other ways, too?

"I can't jump that high," he said. "The good thing is that I'm going to try, though. If you want to follow somebody, that's the guy, what he's been able to do, just on the field with his teammates, around the city, everywhere he goes, you want to keep that rolling."

Ramirez spoke for 20 minutes, the bulk of it about Ortiz's impact on his life since the Red Sox signed him as a 16-year-old out of the Dominican in 2000, before Ortiz had established himself as Big Papi.

"I don't know if you know, but when I signed my first contract with the Marlins, he was the first guy that I called to let him know about it, everything, every detail," Ramirez said. "David is my big brother that I don't have. He's on me 24-7, every day. I can show my phone. He's texting me every minute. He wants to see what I'm doing. We've got that relationship. He went to the Dominican this year to my house and spent a couple of days there. We've got a good relationship. He's my mentor. He's my everything."

He even joked about Ortiz returning this year before emphatically putting the kibosh on the idea.

"I don't know if I'm supposed to say this. He told me the other night, that, uh, David, I'm sorry, man, but I've got to do it," Ortiz said into the TV cameras. "If he tried to come back, I'm one of the reasons he might come back because we miss each other so much. I know that's not going to happen, but he told me that."

Ortiz's impact on Ramirez is obvious.

"He's teaching me, showing me the way to be a leader and a champion, every day," he said. "His legacy, his way to play the game, the way to teach people around him, how he tries to make everybody happy around him. David was unbelievable. If he had a tough day, he would not let anybody know. You don't know when he's got a bad day. He's always got a good day."

He's also gone. With every year that passes, Ortiz's days in a Red Sox uniform will grow more remote. The game stops for no one, and so the next generation must replace him.

Ramirez won't let his memory go easily, though.

"A couple weeks ago, I was sitting with him and we were talking about baseball stuff, and he told me, 'By this time every year, my body starts hurting. Not this year,'" Ramirez said. "His mind is so out of baseball right now that his body feels like it can't come back. I don't think it's going to happen, so you've got to deal with that. David's not coming back. He's home with his family, all right? All right? You got that, Sox Nation? We're going to have to do it."

With that, Ramirez smiled broadly and bounded off the bench. There's work to do, and no better way to honor Ortiz's legacy than by getting to it.