FORT MYERS, Fla. -- And now, there’s a dramatically different vibe around the Fenway South complex.
Big Papi is in the house. And there is nothing like David Ortiz to ratchet up the energy level.
“I think anytime David walks through the room, it lightens it up, brings an energy,” manager John Farrell said. “He looks in great shape. I had a chance to talk to him earlier when he first got in there this morning. He’s full-go and a major part of everything that we do.”
Ortiz, the last Red Sox player to report to camp, had a 9 a.m. physical and a brief meeting with Farrell on Tuesday morning, then spent the rest of the day followed by a frantic phalanx of cameramen, photographers and reporters.
Whatever he did in the offseason, it worked. He looked ripped, wearing a sleeveless black shirt that exposed massive, chiseled biceps on his 39-year-old body. And he felt good enough about himself to toss a little dig in the direction of Pablo Sandoval, chiming, “My belly hasn’t grown like Panda.”
As the phalanx followed him, he headed from the batting cage to Field 1, where he passed a group of fans and cheerfully yelled, “Hello, everyone!” Garrulous, rollicking, larger than life -- he is all that, and more.
After dropping a half-dozen bunts off the pitching of assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez, his first swing was a liner between shortstop and the second-base bag. When Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez and Rusney Castillo were in the cage, Ortiz on a few occasions wrapped his head with a towel. And kept talking. Always talking. Always smiling.
After working on his opposite-field hitting, he quickly got into a serious groove, launching three consecutive tape-measure shots, including one that hit the building behind a 40-foot-high screen in right-center field.
“Hey, see that 39-year-old swinging?” he shouted.
“Looks like 29,” a reporter responded.
“That’s what I want to hear!” Ortiz shouted.
And then it was over. He hopped on the back of a golf cart, with Sandoval next to him and Ramirez in the front, and conducted a brief interview.
“Looks like you picked up a couple of amigos,” one reporter said.
“Special, man, special,” Ortiz said. “Good kids. Hard workers. Young, talented. That’s all you need.”
And then he was gone, shouting, “That’s how we roll!”
Farrell said there is no way to measure the value Ortiz has to the organization. And that value increases with every day he stays in that Red Sox uniform.
“Regardless of where players come from, they all look up to him,” Farrell said. “There are certain players in the game that draw the attention of the opponents, that draw the attention of your teammates. What everyone has witnessed and felt is David’s genuineness. He cares about people. He just doesn’t talk about it. He does it in his own private time and off the field.
“When it comes to a team and taking care of his teammates, he’s very protective and gives a lot of confidence to those guys that are first coming to Boston to [understand] what the uniqueness and greatness of playing here can present. And in addition to the numbers he puts up, that’s what makes David himself.”
Earlier in the day, Ramirez talked about that same thing.
Ramirez, signed by the Red Sox in 2000 as a 16-year-old amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic, made his debut on Sept. 20, 2005. He played all of two games with Ortiz before the Red Sox traded him to the Marlins along with Anibal Sanchez for Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell and Guillermo Mota.
But they remained friends and even worked out together in the Dominican Republic in the offseason.
“He’s like a brother to me,” Ramirez said. “Everybody pretty much looks up to him because of the heart he has and the way he plays the game, how much love he has for the game. Everybody respects him.
“What can I say about Papi, you know? So many good things he does. We love Papi. Papi, he’s the man.”
From what Ramirez has seen, a slowdown in Ortiz’s production isn’t imminent.
“He’s got some tricks at the plate,” he said. “When you get old, you gotta find a way to get hits. It’s nice when your ability starts going down a little bit, you have to start working on little things. David, I was with him in the Dominican this past offseason and he was working every day. So he doesn’t stop working. That’s the key for him.”
Father Time is calling, but Papi isn’t answering. With the addition of the big bats of Ramirez and Sandoval in the lineup, it might even get easier for Ortiz, who has had 30-plus homers and 100-plus RBIs in each of the past two seasons.
“I think first of all with David’s case, the way he performs, age isn’t really a relevant thing -- other than a number at this point, because the numbers that he puts up are incredible,” Farrell said. “But we had to get better overall, and Ben [general manager Ben Cherington] has done a great job of completing our roster and lengthening out a projected lineup that should give David a little bit more protection or maybe put an opposing pitcher in a position where he doesn’t have as many breathers in the lineup. So we think we’re better today than we were at the end of last year.”
Can Papi get even better?
“He marches on,” Farrell said.