Big Papi is baseball's new face
Red Sox slugger is no longer a diamond in the rough
PITTSBURGH -- It was quite a scene Monday afternoon at All-Star media day, with flash bulbs clicking and bright lights hovering above and around the best baseball players in the world. But then, off in a corner, sat David Ortiz, and he had enough diamonds to light up the room by himself.
Ortiz had diamond-encrusted sunglasses, a diamond watch, a diamond bracelet and diamond earrings. Is it Big Papi or Bling Papi? The fact of the matter is, he couldn't have looked any more comfortable amid this stage. It fit him like a glove.
Perhaps that's why Yankees superstar Alex Rodriguez referred to Ortiz as the Magic Johnson of baseball.
Fellow Red Sox All-Stars Jonathan Papelbon and Mark Loretta were also on hand, but they were more than happy to watch their big slugger glow in the spotlight.
"I think he's the biggest personality in the game right now," Loretta said. "I think that's what Alex was getting at. He's somebody that people gravitate to. It's amazing when you see his get-up and stuff, but he's such a down-to-earth guy. He's a great teammate. It's a perfect nickname, Big Papi. He's kind of a huggable guy. He likes to hug people and always has a great smile, a great laugh to him and always makes people feel good when they're in the room with him."
Ortiz, of course, is at his best when he's in the batters' box, particularly with the game or the season on the line. He comes into the break on a typically torrid pace, with 31 homers and 87 RBIs -- a season's worth of production for even a solid player.
Now in his third All-Star Game, Ortiz has transcended what he does on the field. He is now a certified face of the game. So much so that he had no qualms with being described as such.
"That's part of being famous. I've got no problems," said Ortiz. "I just try to keep everything the same way. I'm an easygoing person. Nobody has given me any trouble at this moment."
And why would they?
"I'm delighted to be here with Papi," said Papelbon, who likely won't pitch in the All-Star Game after a grueling weekend workload in Chicago. "He makes everything so much more exciting and makes everything so much [more] loose. When you have a guy like that on your team, to help me out and get through the grueling moments of the season, that's just something that he brings to the ballclub that people don't see. That's one of the great things about playing with him."
Of course, if not for Big Papi's overwhelming presence, Papelbon, the brilliant rookie closer, would have been the center of attention.
There seemed to be enough to go around since, from a Boston angle, it was basically the Papi and Papelbon Show, with Loretta blending in as smoothly as he does in the No. 2 spot in the batting order.
"That guy is an absolute grinder," said Papelbon of Loretta. "He plays every day for us and he's one of the captains of our team, one of the guys who takes on the role of, 'Hey, I'm here to give you what I have, day in and day out.' He doesn't say anything and gives you what he's got every day. It's great to be a part of that."
Loretta is realistic enough to know that he won't draw quite the same attention at the All-Star festivities as his higher-profile teammates.
"I wasn't sure I was going to get any attention with those two guys," quipped Loretta. "My first All-Star experience [in 2004 with Padres], I was the only player with my team. I felt a little out of place, a little awkward, not quite sure what to do. It's nice to be here with some teammates. I think Papelbon being a rookie, that also makes him feel a little more comfortable having us here."
Not that Papelbon needs a whole lot of direction. He has managed to be nearly untouchable in the first three months of his rookie season. In Sunday's 19-inning marathon with the White Sox, Papelbon suffered just his third loss of the season while allowing only his third earned run in 40 appearances. His ERA is 0.59.
What would Papelbon have said if someone told him at the beginning of the season that he'd be an American League All-Star in his rookie year?
"I would have said, 'That's right.' I would have believed them," said Papelbon. "I've always set my goals really high for myself. That was one of the goals I set for myself this season, to make the All-Star team and be part of this. I think that if you set your goals high enough, if you don't reach your goals and you fall just short of them, you're still accomplishing a lot."
The Boston All-Stars came to town a little weary after engaging in a 19-inning epic against the White Sox on Sunday. But the adrenaline of the event seemed to wipe away the bags under the eyes.
"Actually, I was away from my kids for like two weeks," Ortiz said. "It's my son's birthday today. He walked earlier this morning to my room and it was not hard for me to get up. At least you have your kid waking you up who you haven't seen for a couple of weeks. It kind of makes the day, even if you're tired."
Then, Ortiz went from watching little kids to a big one. Just two years ago, Ortiz was a first-time All-Star. This time, he watched Papelbon go through that same experience.
"Yeah, it's fun to have him around," Ortiz said. "I tried to stay close to him with whatever he needs. And whatever he wants to know, I let him know. He's very excited about it. That's going to get him even better at what he does, because he knows that people know him a lot and people are very happy with the job he's been doing."
As for Ortiz, he was blissfully representing both the Red Sox and the game of baseball.
"He embraces everything about this game and everything with the fans, and just his whole persona and what he brings is just awesome," Papelbon said. "It's great for the game. In my opinion, he's the face of baseball right now."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.