Old stomping grounds for Big Papi
SEATTLE - Seventeen-year-old David Arias thought he’d grow up to play with the Seattle Mariners, maybe someday hit in the same lineup with Ken Griffey Jr. The Dominican-born slugger had great power as a teenager and dreamed about crushing tape-measure shots in the Kingdome.
None of that worked out, of course. The Kingdome was replaced by Safeco Field in 1999 and demolished in 2000. Griffey went home to Cincinnati to hit his 600th homer.
And what about young Mr. Arias?
He got traded to the Twins when he was 20, changed his name to David Ortiz, broke into the bigs in 1997, had some good years with Minnesota, got released by the Twins (2002), then came to Boston, where he became Big Papi, the Sox most beloved player, a two-time world champ, and Boston’s greatest clutch hitter since Carl Yastrzemski, circa 1967.
The 2011 Red Sox are four games into a two-city trip in which Ortiz faces both of the organizations that gave up on him. Ortiz has collected nine hits, including three homers, in the first four games of the Red Sox’ six-game road trip through Minneapolis and Seattle.
Big Papi disputes the notion that he carries extra emotion into games against the Twins and Mariners. This is Revenge Tour Across America for David Americo Arias Ortiz.
“That was all a long time ago,’’ he said with a smile before blasting homer No. 24 to center last night in the Red Sox’ 6-4 victory. “I’m more intense against the Yankees than anyone else.’’
Still, it’s hard not to think of what might have been.
“Sure, I dreamed about playing with Griff,’’ he said. “I went to [spring training] camp with them one year and met him and went to dinner with Griff and his father. I remember thinking, ‘This is where I want to be.’ ’’
The Mariners signed David Arias ($7,500 bonus) when he was 16 in November of 1992 (Arias was Papi’s mother’s maiden name and it’s not unusual for Dominican-born players to use their mother’s surname). He played his first professional baseball season in the Dominican Summer League in 1993, hitting .264 with seven homers in 61 games. In ’94 he came to America to play rookie league ball in Peoria, Ariz., where he hit .246 with two homers in 53 games. He thought he was going to be moved up to Seattle’s Wisconsin club in 1995, but the Mariners kept him in rookie ball. Arias responded with a monster season and - at the insistence of minor league coordinator Jim Skaalen - was finally promoted to Appleton, Wis., for the 1996 season.
He was still David Arias with the Single A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers in ’96, and hit .322 with 18 homers and 93 RBIs in 129 games. He played in the Midwest League All-Star Game and was voted the league’s “Most Exciting Player.’’
“Our big league club went to Appleton to play an exhibition that summer,’’ says Tim Hevly, Seattle’s longtime director of baseball information. “We had Junior, Jay Buhner, Edgar Martinez. We ended up getting rained out, but they wanted to give the fans something so they staged a home run derby in the rain. None of our big guys wanted to do it so Dan Wilson ended up doing it. He was a righthanded batter and his fly balls kept getting held up in the wind. Meanwhile, they left a gate open in right-center and David Arias’s fly balls kept going there and they called them all home runs and he won the derby so they had something to brag about in Appleton.’’
It was also in Appleton that David met a 22-year-old Wisconsin native named Tiffany. They both lied about their ages. The 20-year-old Arias told Tiffany he was 21. Being polite, Tiffany said she was also 21. They married eight years later and today have three children.
Arias was feeling pretty good about himself after the 1996 season. He had his good numbers and a new girl friend. That’s when he was traded to the Twins. The Mariners had acquired Dave Hollins from the Twins during midsummer in 1996 and Arias turned out to be the player to be named later.
“You find out you got traded for a major leaguer, one on one, that’s a pretty good thing,’’ he remembered.
When he reported for duty with the Twins in 1997, Minnesota officials told him he should change the name on all his paperwork to David Ortiz because Ortiz is his dad’s name and that’s how it’s done in America. They believed it might make it easier to process his paperwork for a visa.
When Twins manager Tom Kelly found out his young first base prospect changed his name, Kelly asked, “What happened? Did you get married during the offseason?’’
When Big Papi got his first call to the big leagues in September of ’97, he was David Ortiz.
Ortiz never warmed to Kelly’s small-ball, go-the-other-way approach. There were injuries and misunderstandings.
“I don’t think Tom Kelly liked me one time,’’ recalled Ortiz. “I was always a bad apple for him. He said I had attitude and that I was not working hard enough.’’
The Twins gave Ortiz his outright release after he hit 20 homers in Minnesota’s playoff season of 2002. Ortiz was brought to Boston as a low-risk free agent in 2003, set to compete with Jeremy Giambi for the DH job.
The rest is baseball history. And the Twins and Mariners are still paying.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.