BOSTON -- Getting a much-needed day off, David Ortiz sat at his locker Sunday morning in the Red Sox clubhouse when rookie Mookie Betts approached him.
Betts leaned over, picked up a pair of knee braces and said to Ortiz: "You know you're getting old when you need these to play."
Ortiz laughed. "Come see me in 10 years," he told Betts, who responded: "I'll be 31."
"Damn. OK, 20 then."
Ortiz spoke glowing about Betts' future and how the rookie is "in search of being great."
The 38-year-old Ortiz then began to reflect on his own career.
It's been a tough season. This isn't how he envisioned the reigning World Series champions defending their title. The Red Sox have spent the majority of the season in the basement of the AL East and entered Sunday's series finale against the Toronto Blue Jays 19 ½ games out of first place.
There are 19 games remaining in the 2014 season. Knowing the club will miss the postseason for only the fifth time in his 11-year career in Boston does not sit well with Ortiz.
"It sucks. Sucks. You know you're basically playing for nothing," Ortiz said. "It sucks. It wears you out more than when you know you're going to the playoffs -- believe it or not. It wears you out more than when you know you have more games to play. I know I have 19 games left, and I'm worn out.
"Now, when I know I've got 19-plus, that gets me going. It puts me in the mood and makes me think that's why I work and get prepared for in the offseason. I'm telling you, when I'm getting prepared in the offseason, I'm thinking about October. I'm not thinking about September. When October kicks in, automatically [I] start taking things to the next level."
This past October, the St. Louis Cardinals led the World Series 2-1 and the Red Sox were scuffling during Game 4 at Busch Stadium. Ortiz called his teammates together in the dugout and gave an inspiring speech. He told the players: "We don't get here every day." He told them to relax and play their game. His words helped motivate a team that went on to win its third title in 10 years.
"Good thing they listened, because look what we have now," he said Sunday morning.
The reigning World Series MVP is sore. His body aches, and he's feeling his age these days. He has one year remaining on his current contract with the Red Sox, and he doesn't know how much longer he'll play. For certain, Ortiz will finish his career in Boston, and he would like to add a fourth World Series championship to his already impressive resume.
"Being in the World Series last year, and now I'm going to have to sit down and watch the World Series this year -- it sucks," he said. "I love the taste of being in the World Series. Thank God I enjoyed the one last year because it's not like I have much longer to play, but I would like to be in another one before I go."
"What Derek Jeter is doing is fine because he's Derek Jeter. ... But I don't know if I'm going to go through all that. I'm not going to wake up and be like, 'I'm going to play this year and then not anymore.' To me, it's going to be how things go through the season and how I feel and then I'm going to be like, 'Mama, it's over.'"David Ortiz, pondering retirement
This season has worn him down so much it has him contemplating his future. Other than what he's dealing with from a physical standpoint, he continues to put up impressive numbers. He's batting .263 with 32 home runs and 98 RBIs.
Ortiz is two RBIs shy of his eighth 30/100 season. If he reaches that plateau, he will pass Ted Williams (seven seasons) for most in franchise history. No other left-handed hitter has more than six such seasons since 2003. Ortiz would also become the oldest major leaguer since Frank Thomas registered 39/114 in 2006 to reach the 30/100 mark.
Every morning, Ortiz's body gives him reminders that it might not be too much longer before he'll have to retire.
"I don't know, but I'm not getting any younger," he said. "I don't want to put a date on it. I don't want to put a deadline on when I'm going to stop playing because that's not fair to the fans, it's not fair to myself, it's not fair to my family, my team."
When Ortiz finally decides to retire, as one of the most popular athletes in Boston sports history, he doesn't want a farewell tour like the Yankees' Mariano Rivera had a year ago or what Derek Jeter is experiencing right now.
"What Derek Jeter is doing is fine because he's Derek Jeter. What Mariano did is fine because it's Mariano," he said. "But I don't know if I'm going to go through all that. I'm not going to wake up and be like, 'I'm going to play this year and then not anymore.' To me, it's going to be how things go through the season and how I feel, and then I'm going to be like, 'Mama, it's over.' I'm going to let her know."
"The game is getting crazy. It's getting tougher for a guy like myself. When you get older you think things are going to get easier -- not in this game. You have to stay strong physically and mentally, so you can be successful."
It's been a difficult season for the entire Red Sox organization. Players are drained and can't wait for it to end. That wouldn't be the case if circumstances were different.
"I would be getting my Superman cap out of the box right now," Ortiz said. "When it comes down to playoffs, man, I don't know what it is, I don't even know how to describe it, but I like to show up. I don't like to waste time in the playoffs. I don't even know how I flip the switch, but I love being watched. I love to get it done."
And get it done was what Ortiz did in a big way in the Fall Classic. His .688 batting average and 1.948 OPS not only earned him MVP honors but also got him a special ring from the Red Sox at April's championship celebration.
Season after season, as Ortiz's cumulative numbers increase, the discussion of whether he's a Hall of Famer resonates. Some believe he should be a sure-bet to have a plaque in Cooperstown. Others, however, think a designated hitter does not belong.
It's not a subject he's ever been comfortable discussing.
"The Hall of Fame means something to everybody. In my case, look, I'm very emotional, [and] I'm sentimental," Ortiz said. "I don't want to make myself think I'm going to be in it, in case it doesn't happen, because one day I don't want to wake up and be like, 'Man, it's crazy how hard I worked and all the things I accomplished while I played, and people think because I was a DH I don't deserve to be a part of where the greatest go to.'
"All I know is that's where the greatest go, but I'm not one of the greatest yet. I'll keep on playing, and we'll see how it plays out. I've got to continue putting up good numbers because the more numbers you accumulate, the better it is. I've got the DH thing against me, which is something I don't think is fair because it is what it is, it's part of the game. I haven't seen a position player go to the Hall of Fame just because his whole career he played good defense. You don't do some damage with your bat, you're not going anywhere. It doesn't matter if you win 20 Gold Gloves -- period."
Ortiz admits that if he had to play first base on a regular basis during his career, he probably wouldn't still be playing. That said, the times he has played first -- during interleague play and the World Series -- he's handled himself well.
During a normal game when he's DHing, he'll spend most of the time in the cage. He spends countless hours working on his craft, but he's not sure how his game would have been affected if he had to play the field on a regular basis.
"To be honest with you, I don't know," he said. "My preparation would've been different. I would've prepared myself to play defense. I've always been athletic. The reason I'm still playing baseball right now and do what I do is because of how I grew up as an athlete. I played so much basketball, volleyball and baseball growing, I used to run miles and do all kinds of crazy s---. All that s--- will catch up with you, but in the long run it will help you, too."
Prior to having Sunday off, Ortiz had played in 132 games this season. If he plays the remaining 19 games, he'll finish the season with 151. With the last-place season nearly over, Ortiz wants to end on a positive note and continue to give the fans what they want to see from him.
"When I'm going from the dugout to the on-deck circle and all the way out to the plate, I can read people," he said. "I can see people and know what they're expecting, and that's motivation. So there's no way I'm not going to try to go at it."
As Betts was heading to the cage for early work on Sunday, Ortiz remained at his locker. He talked about the Patriots beginning their season, but his focus kept coming back to this disappointing season.
"Walking away with a 'W' is what matters to me," Ortiz said as he slipped on his ankle braces.