FORT MYERS, Fla. -- David Ortiz, slimmed down slightly in size but never in personality, walked toward the Red Sox clubhouse yesterday, carrying a brown-and-black dog that fit almost perfectly inside one of the big man's paws. He handed off the dog -- Mikey, he later said -- to a crony of his, a man in a T-shirt with Ortiz's face plastered on the front.
Oh, and parked outside the player development complex? A new black
Such is life for David Ortiz.
"It's my first truck ever," Ortiz said. "Pickup truck. That's what I got for my new year.
"That was my breakfast. I get a little something every year. That's why I keep on going, man. I like presents."
So, with Red Sox fans huddled outside the ropes calling his name, the face -- or at least the smile -- of the franchise made his first public appearance of the year in Fort Myers, though he was said to have arrived the night before. He was one truck richer, and ready to hold forth on all things new to the Red Sox -- Japanese pitchers, conditioning drills, signings -- and old -- Manny Ramírez's tardiness.
But before all that, Ortiz was asked how the new would affect the old. The new provisions given to Daisuke Matsuzaka versus the old money in Ortiz's contract, signed before the boom of this past offseason.
Though it wasn't the personal masseuse, translator, trips to Japan, and rounds at major golf courses that were included in the contract signed by Matsuzaka, the truck -- in which Ortiz roared out of the parking lot around 3 p.m. -- didn't hurt in welcoming the designated hitter back to camp. (When asked if it was given to him because the owners felt they were underpaying him, Ortiz said, "No," laughed, then said, "Maybe.") It soothed, a bit, any anxiety Ortiz might have had watching contracts expand to incredible amounts after he signed a four-year, $50 million deal last April, denying him a market that saw the Royals' Gil Meche pick up more guaranteed money than the Sox slugger (though at a lower annual value).
"I know it was a lot of good things happening out there," Ortiz said of recent contracts. "It's something you can't control. You make decisions, later on something happens, you already did what you were supposed to. It doesn't bother me. I'm going to be still young when this contract finishes [36 in November of the option year in 2011]. Hopefully, the money's still out there like that."
Whether it is or not, Ortiz is looking forward to a season in which he will still bat in front of the inimitable Ramírez. Not trading him seems to have suited Ortiz. Plus there's J.D. Drew and Julio Lugo to add to a lineup that appears to be stacked.
"We needed it," Ortiz said of the offseason moves. "We needed them. Our front office, our GM, our owners, they went out there and got some of the best who was on the market. Now, hopefully, everybody stays healthy and everybody can do what everybody expects -- and I'm pretty sure we'll be out there [in the playoffs]."
Because it's not just the lineup that got a boost over the winter. There was that aforementioned pitcher signed, too.
"I don't remember what Matsuzaka looked like till I saw him this winter," Ortiz said. "I always tell people that everybody looks the same to me in Japan. Which is cool, man. I wish we could be like that in the Dominican, so you can hide."
Though he might not have endeared himself to Japanese fans with that comment, he seemed sincere about welcoming the newcomers to the clubhouse, and learning about the culture, both from Matsuzaka and lefthanded reliever Hideki Okajima, and from the hordes of Japanese media chronicling their every move. He just needs to be able to tell the difference between the two pitchers, he joked, saying, "I know there's going to be one pitching every five days and another one coming into the game every day."
But, Japanese pitchers aside, Ortiz appeared to be ready, indicating that it didn't help anyone to come here expecting to lose 20-25 pounds. With that in mind, Ortiz struggled through the conditioning drills, including the run, which manager Terry Francona acknowledged, saying, "Asking a guy like David Ortiz . . . to do that is not easy."
Fortunately, Ortiz emerged with his sense of humor intact. Cracking jokes and smiling wide, Ortiz made sure everyone knew he was back. That didn't mean, of course, that he couldn't turn serious momentarily, reflecting on how far he has come since he spent spring training on the other side of town, with the Minnesota Twins.
"I'm not out here taking things for granted," Ortiz said. "You work and try to learn the best. You've got to get the best day by day. That's what you're going to get. You're going to be blessed."
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at email@example.com.