It was the end of a long night in Minnesota, and David Ortiz was still in high spirits after hitting a homer and driving in the winning run with a single on a four-hit night. He'd engaged in some humorous back-and-forth with reporters following the game, and now, as he was preparing to leave, I asked him whether he'd noticed that ESPN had resurrected the TV ad in which he is showing Yankees catcher Jorge Posada how to break in a new cap.
Ortiz, as part of his lesson to Posada, has just placed a Yankees cap on his own head when Wally the Green Monster walks past, spots Ortiz and drops everything he is carrying.The ad ends with Ortiz rising and calling plaintively after the Red Sox mascot, "Wally, Wally, it's not what you think."
Yes, Ortiz said, he'd seen the ad airing again, noting that the network often shows it any time the Red Sox and Yankees are playing each other.
"Next year,'' Ortiz said as he was walking away, "it might be, 'Wally, it is what you think.'"
I retell the story now not to illustrate Ortiz's discontent with his contract situation (his deal expires at the end of the season) and how he has injected his unhappiness into the narrative of this year, but because it suggests the opposite: Other than an occasional muttered aside like this one -- delivered, yes, to a cluster of reporters but leavened with humor instead of anger -- Ortiz has resisted the urge to make his future a focal point of this Red Sox summer.
Occasionally, it flares anew -- there was a headline last weekend when my ESPNdeportes.com colleague Enrique Rojas quoted a source close to the slugger that he was unhappy that the Sox had not offered an extension -- and with the New York media in town, Ortiz could have elaborated, fanning the flames of his perceived discontent.
Instead, Ortiz chose nothing of the sort, downplaying the story when asked about it, even though the timing was all tilted in his favor. Ortiz is enjoying a terrific season, looking in the best shape he has been in in years ("Just keeping it real,'' he says), hitting lefties, hitting to the opposite field, on pace to easily eclipse the twin thresholds of 30 home runs and 100 RBIs.
If he wanted to make the case that the Sox should have offered him an extension yesterday, not only for services already rendered but for the promise of more production to come, production not easily replaced, he occupied the high ground.
No mention of how the Red Sox had overpaid for Daisuke Matsuzaka, J.D. Drew, John Lackey and -- based on the early returns -- Carl Crawford, while making no overtures to the player who has been the unquestioned face of the franchise, especially after Pedro Martinez was allowed to leave following the 2004 season.
No mention of how, to Ortiz, it appears the Sox planned to show him the same door they had shown so many of the stars with whom he had once played -- Nomar Garciaparra and Pedro Martinez, Johnny Damon and Derek Lowe, and Manny Ramirez -- the exit out of town.
Maybe Ortiz has taken the stance he has because he recognizes the futility of doing otherwise -- the Red Sox have made it clear to him they will not address his contract until after the season and that, in the end, it won't make any difference what he says, just as it didn't even with the great Martinez.
His restraint, regardless of the motivation, is commendable. Make no mistake: "Big Papi" could have become a big headache. And he has not let that happen.
These Red Sox are bloodless about such things. Theo Epstein will convey to John W. Henry what value he has assigned to Ortiz, no different than with any other player either on the roster or targeted by the Sox as a possible acquisition -- and if Ortiz falls within the parameters of what the Sox are willing to do, they will make him an offer. And that offer might well fall short of what another club is willing to pay.
Ortiz understands the market for designated hitters has gone soft in recent years, especially for sluggers getting longer in the tooth. And it will not help his negotiating position that the biggest DH signing of last winter, Adam Dunn (four years, $56 million), has been a monumental bust for the Chicago White Sox.
Turning 36 on Nov. 18, he recognizes that he is unlikely to command more than a two-year deal (maybe someone will be willing to tack on an option year). In truth, if the Sox approached him tomorrow with a two-year extension in the same salary neighborhood he currently commands ($12.5 million), he'd probably take it. Has he said as much? No, but he has mentioned his desire for a two-year extension. Me, I'd give it to him. Yesterday. Always fun to spend somebody else's money.
And if that doesn't happen? Well, you know what they say about art imitating life. And with Posada failing in the role, it shouldn't escape anyone's notice that the Yankees could use a left-handed-hitting DH. What do you think, Wally?
Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.