A.J. wheels down an actual memory lane

Red Sox catchers A.J. Pierzynski and David Ross walk off after a spring training workout Saturday. Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- He's new to the team, but Red Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski didn't need any directions in town.

Twenty years ago, in 1994, Pierzynski's professional baseball career began here with the Gulf Coast League Twins in rookie ball. Three years later, at the age of 20, Pierzynski was back, playing for the Fort Myers Miracle in the Class A Florida State League.

One of his teammates was a 21-year-old first baseman named David Ortiz, who had just come over in a trade from the Seattle Mariners, where he had played under the name of David Arias.

"We lived just up the street on Daniels [Parkway]," Pierzynski said here Saturday, his son Austin in tow. "He'd come over and hang out all the time.

"The first game we ever played together -- the first or second game -- it was the ninth inning, we were down by a run, they brought in a lefty, and [Ortiz] hit a home run to win the game. I'm thinking, 'Hey, this guy's pretty good,' and he continued to get better."

Ortiz hit 5 home runs and batted .432 in his first 11 games for the Miracle. He was selected to play in the Florida State League All-Star game, but was promoted to Double-A New Britain. His place on the roster was taken by Pierzynski, who drove in the tying run and scored the game-winner.

Pierzynski made his big league debut for the Twins on Sept. 9 in 1998, and grounded out against Omar Olivares in his first at-bat. He later was hit by a pitch by Trevor Wilson. Ortiz, a September call-up the year before, homered in the same game. They would be full-time teammates in Minnesota for three seasons, 2001-2003.

"Coming to Boston was the best thing that ever happened to him," Pierzynski said of Ortiz. "He was never given the freedom in Minnesota to become what he has become. Not because of anything, just because of the way it was over there; they ran a little bit of a different ship.

"He came to a perfect place for him. He's had a Hall of Fame career. He's one of those guys every time you see him he puts a smile on your face. I didn't know he'd be as good as he ended up being, but I'm happy for him. I love David. It's like he's one of my brothers. He's always been there for me."