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Thank goodness for David Ortiz

WHEN DAVID ORTIZ steps to the plate for the Boston Red Sox, you think about a bat connecting with a ball. You don't think about a fist connecting with a wife, which is sadly the case with other players.

Baseball, tainted badly by the steroid use scandal, is periodically undercut by miscellaneous examples of men behaving badly. Just recently, three fresh illustrations - two from Major League Baseball, one from the minors - were on display.

Brett Myers, starting pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies, was arrested for allegedly twice hitting his wife in the head with his fist as the two argued on a Boston sidewalk. After he was set free on $200 bail, Myers was also free to pitch at Fenway. Before the game, Myers said he was ''sorry it had to get public,'' making him as sorry as anyone who is sorry that he got caught.

Ozzie Guillen, manager of the Chicago White Sox, aimed an expletive and a derogatory term for homosexuals at a sports columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times. He was fined by Commisssioner Bud Selig and ordered to attend sensitivity training - which, Guillen, of course, scoffed at, just as the baseball world is inclined to scoff at the episode as Ozzie being Ozzie.

And Joe Mikulik, manager of the Class A Asheville Tourists, had a big-league meltdown when Lexington's Koby Clemens was called safe on an attempted pickoff play at second base. After ranting, Mikulik started raving - ripping up the second-base bag, throwing a rosin bag into the bullpen, and tossing bats onto the field. This self-indulgent tirade was replayed as a humorous moment on TV.

Think about that message the next time you see a kid do something similar during a Little League game.

These episodes are not all equal. But, collectively, they are variations of a theme far too common in professional sports - a lack of personal self-control, which is often breezily dismissed, especially when the practitioner is considered a winner.

That's when it's nice to think about Ortiz, who, this far into his career, looks like a real winner.

Myers's club gave him a pass on alleged wife-beating, because the Phillies wanted to beat Boston.

The strategy failed. The Sox scored three runs against Myers on seven hits and four walks in five innings.

Boston went on to win, 5-3, on a Ortiz walk-off home run off Phillies pitcher Tom Gordon in the 10th inning.

The New York Times Co., which owns The Boston Globe, owns a piece of the Sox, but that's not why I like Ortiz. I like him because when he is at bat you forget about who owns the club and how much money they are making from overpriced seats and offensive corporate signage. You forget about the people whose primary goal in scoring a ticket is not to watch baseball, but to be seen at Fenway. You forget about all the overpaid, immature, undisciplined slackers and showboaters throughout Major League Baseball who collect their salaries even as they whiff in clutch situations.

Ortiz is certainly well paid.

This spring, the Sox gave him a four-year, $52 million contract extension through 2010. But salary isn't the first thing that comes to mind when Ortiz swings his bat and crushes a ball, often when the game is on the line.

''Folks, it's not that easy,'' Fox broadcaster Tim McCarver said as Big Papi rounded the bases during Saturday's Sox-Phillies showdown.

Ortiz makes it look easy and, in doing so, he makes baseball fun.

Afterward, when sports reporters ask him about his latest heroics, he talks about getting the job done. Baseball is a game he enjoys, but it is also work that he takes seriously.

About the expectations now riding on his every at-bat, Ortiz told the Globe's Bob Ryan: ''You've just got to say, People, it really isn't that easy, so don't get used to it.

"There are going to be more times you're not going to do it. But I'm sure people know you try, that you put everything into it. That's all I can do.'' He isn't going to hit a home run during every game, and he can't win every game for the Red Sox.

But, too often, baseball's darker side casts a shadow on the boys of summer. Ortiz makes it possible to think about the sunnier side of America's classic pastime.

Joan Vennochi's e-mail address is

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