Friday, July 25, 2008

Ortiz Thrills Mainers at Hadlock Field

By Joe Hessert
Staff Columnist

The stands at Hadlock Field shook when David Ortiz emerged from the dugout to lead-off the fourth inning. Never mind that the Sea Dogs were already down 9-1. Never mind that Right-hander Garrett Broshuis was having a great night on the hill for the Connecticut Defenders.   Never mind that Ortiz struck out to end the first inning. Big Papi was getting another chance to swing the bat and that’s what most of the fans in sold-out Hadlock had come to see.
“Papi, Papi!” the fans chanted, banging on their seats and stomping on the aluminum bleachers. A woman in the stands yelled, “Show us those pearly whites, Papi!” hoping for a smile from the slugger. It was seventy degrees, and the sun was starting to set over the left field wall. The partly-cloudy sky appeared golden and beneath it Hadlock Field seemed to glow under the floodlights.
On the 1-2 pitch Ortiz hit an easy grounder to Connecticut’s first baseman. The crowd sighed. But the ball was misplayed, bouncing off the heel of his glove to the second baseman who scooped it and tossed it to the pitcher who had shifted to cover first. There was still plenty of time to make the out, but when the ball smacked into Broshuis’ glove he mishandled it and it dropped harmlessly to the ground. David Ortiz had reached first base on two errors. Hundreds of Mainers went nuts.
Sometimes it’s the imperfections in a play that make a night at the ballpark perfect, and that’s something to appreciate about AA baseball in Portland. Home runs, perfectly turned double plays, diving catches and thrown out base-runners can thrill a crowd – and there were certainly some of those plays made at Hadlock on Tuesday night. But watching one of the greatest sluggers in the game hustle to first and listening to hundreds of people hanging on every movement of a baseball during an oddball play is arguably just as special. Where else can you see one of the biggest stars in the game play and joke and laugh alongside tomorrow’s all-stars?
Ortiz didn’t homer in Tuesday night’s game, but he hit a few over everything and onto the football field behind the right field wall during batting practice (this was after the manager of the visiting Connecticut Defenders crossed the field and asked him to autograph a baseball) and his swing looked as good as ever. He spoke well of the Sea Dogs Organization during a pre-game press conference too: “What I see here and what I see in triple-A Pawtucket, the guys look good,” he said. “All of them know you gotta work hard to move up.”
And Papi has seen that hard work pay-off for former Sea Dog players like All-Star infielders Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis and outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury. “Last year without those kids I don’t think we would have made it,” Ortiz said. But the Red Sox did make it in 2007, winning the World Series for the second time since 2004. Jacoby was called up at the end of the 2007 season from Double-A Portland and had a great postseason. “Ellsbury last year … he carried the team on his back through the playoffs,” Ortiz said with a smile. “That’s big.”
“I like the weather for sure,” Papi said when asked how he was enjoying his trip to Maine – the last stop on a rehab stint before rejoining the Red Sox for a series against New York this weekend. And while he hasn’t had any lobster yet, he has enjoyed watching the way that the young players in Portland conduct themselves.
Asked if he was excited about facing the Yankees in a few days, David grinned and said simply, “We’ll get ‘em.”

Caption: David Ortiz admires a line drive hit by one of his Portland teammates during batting practice on Tuesday afternoon. (Weekly Sentinel photo)