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Despite Change in Boston, David Ortiz Remains

Keith Allison:Flickr

All is right with Ortiz back in Beantown.

In this day and age, most athletes look for the greenest pastures, or a get out of jail free card from the floundering organization that employs them. In the last year alone, we have seen franchise stalwarts Peyton Manning, Albert Puljos, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, Chris Paul, and Prince Fielder move on, reminding us that sports are indeed a business.

The reality is, it’s not very often that a guy like Derek Jeter, Chipper Jones, Martin Brodeur, or Ray Lewis comes along. However David Ortiz is cut from a similar cloth, and he has some unfinished business left in Boston.

The heart and soul of the Sox for the last decade was once a building block for championship teams, but he will now be a central figure on a rebuilding Boston club after officially resigning for two years, $26 million.

This is new territory for the slugger, but what’s important is that he will most likely retire wearing the red and white he bleeds. "I don't think there was any doubt," Ortiz said. "They approached me well and our negotiations this year were easier than ever. They know what they were looking for and it wasn't even a going back-and-forth situation. It was pretty much this is it and let's agree with it.”

It wasn’t all smooth sailing though, as ‘Big Papi’ was upset about the team’s decision not to give him a two-year contract prior to last season. He was forced to settle for arbitration, and the sides eventually agreed on a one-year $14.575 million deal hours before a hearing. The ordeal wasn’t fun for Ortiz, and he even called the process, ‘humiliating’.

But like always he went about his business, making his 8th All-Star appearance.  In July, Ortiz became just the 50th player in league history to hit 400 home-runs. When healthy, the 36-year old put up big numbers with 23 homers, 60 RBIs and a .318 average.

However, he was limited to just 90 games due to a strained right Achilles tendon, and the Red Sox finished 24 games under .500. Under Bobby Valentine, the club suffered their first 90 loss season since the 1966 campaign, and in a matter of months Boston went from a perennial championship contender to a bottom dweller. Despite the long road back to contending, Ortiz seems to be embracing the challenge. 

"My focus right now is to provide what this organization expects from me the next two years," he said. "I'm a person that likes to get prepared for a challenge. Ben talked to me during the season and told me and a couple of my teammates he wants to build an organization around us. It's very painful to see what we went through this season."

It’s not too long ago that the Sox were on the top of the baseball plateau, giving their arch rival Yankees a run as the best team during the 2000’s. After being sent home by an 11th inning home-run off the bat of Aaron Boone in Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series, Boston finally vanquished the ghosts of Ruth in dramatic fashion the following October.

In a rematch with their hated enemy, the tides turned for Boston, as they came back from a 3-0 series deficit, becoming the only team in baseball history to do so. The beloved ‘Idiots’, advanced to the World Series to play the Cardinals, who they swept in four games to end an 86 year drought of futility.

The title was Boston’s first since the team sold the Babe to the Bronx Bombers for $125,000, to help fund then owner Harry Frazee’s Broadway musical "No, No, Nanette”. Under the guidance of General Manager Theo Epstein, and leadership of manager Terry Francona, the club became a constant in the postseason and added another ring in 2007.

The two championships in four years came behind a similar and likeable core of Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Curt Schilling, Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield. But, instead of building on their mini-dynasty; the most successful nine year run in team history came to an abrupt end last September.

The team’s colossal collapse was completed in game 162 after a 2-out walk-off single by Orioles infielder Robert Andino, a name now that will live in New England lore along with Billy Bucker, Bucky Dent, and Aaron ‘Freakin’ Boone.

In the final month of the season they went 7-20 and had a meltdown for the ages, blowing the 9-game lead they held over the Rays on Sept. 3 for the Wild Card.  In the process Francona lost the clubhouse and eventually his job. Epstein followed him out the door, and the Valentine, Ben Cherington era officially began.

In the purge, longtime teammates Wakefield and Varitek were forced into retirement despite expressing interest in returning. Star closer Jonathan Papelbon signed as a free agent with the Phillies. J.D. Drew rode into the sunset, and just like that the glory days of just a few years ago became a fading memory.

This Spring Training was the first without their venerable Captain or knuckle-baller since 1995, and things felt strange. "It was kind of weird walking into the clubhouse and not seeing them,'' Ortiz admitted in February.

Their departures left Ortiz as the longest tenured Sox, and team’s elder-statesman. Since coming over from the Twins in 2003 he has hit 343 homers, good for fifth on the team's career list, and collected 1,088 RBIs. Along the way he has possibly been the organization’s best free agent signing ever, and the foundation of both Championship teams.

However these Sox are no longer a team thinking World Series, rather one just looking to get back some respectability. Cherington, the team’s General Manager hit the reset button and shocked the baseball world by unloading the contracts of Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett, and Nick Punto in August, leaving plenty of financial wiggle room for starting anew.

But, the first thing on his long off-season to do list was locking up one of the best to ever play in Fenway. Even though Ortiz isn’t a Boston lifer, not many in sports represent the city, or uniform that they play for more than him.

His number 34 will be one day be immortalized in the storied stadium along with legends Ted Williams, Carlton Fisk, Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, Bobby Doerr, Joe Cronin, and the recently deceased Johnny Pesky, who was a good friend of Ortiz.

The fun loving, ‘Cowboy Up’ bunch that he came to in 2003 is a distant memory, and he is now the last man standing from both championship teams. The likes of Kevin Millar, Bill Mueller, Trot Nixon, Mike Timlin, Gabe Kaplar, Johnny Damon and others are long gone.

There are less and less familiar faces in the clubhouse, and a new chapter in Red Sox history is just getting started but, Ortiz isn’t making it as an excuse to leave. Instead he will march on in hope of bringing his proud franchise back to relevancy, with the goal of one day getting back to the promise land.