WASHINGTON — David Ortiz drew so many pals and well-wishers, it took him nearly three minutes just to climb a few dugout steps. He then swung behind the batting cage, gave Vladimir Guerrero a playful pat, and spotted another Hall of Famer along the first base side.
“What’s goin’ on, Papi?” a grinning Dave Winfield asked.
Yep, Big Papi is still a big hit wherever he goes, whatever he does.
On Sunday, that meant a new job: The retired Red Sox great became a manager at the All-Star Futures Game, guiding the minor league talent on the World squad at Nationals Park.
Ortiz, of course, drew the loudest ovation during pregame introductions. Famed for hitting fastballs into the bleachers at Fenway Park, he found this skippering business more like a changeup. As in, tough to adjust to, even for a one-time exhibition.
“People will say you played in the big leagues for 20 years, you will have this managing side in your back pocket,” he said. “It doesn’t work that way.”
Not on this afternoon, anyway. Final score: U.S. 10, World 6.
“Being a manager is not that easy, I’m telling you it’s not that easy,” he said after the game. “Being a manager is stressful, especially when things are not going good,” he said, laughing.
And no surprise, Ortiz doesn’t have any intention of making this a full-time gig at any level.
“That is not on my bucket list,” the 42-year-old Ortiz said.
Besides, he reckoned, he’s probably too nice for the post.
“I’m so friendly with everybody,” he said, “I don’t know how to be mad at anybody.”
Luis Basabe got to see that big smile up close. A top young talent for the Chicago White Sox, the 21-year-old from Venezuela was picked by Ortiz to lead off and play center field. He rewarded his manager’s faith by hitting a home run.
Asked how it felt to share space with Ortiz, his eyes grew wide.
“His name … Big Papi … that name means a lot,” Basabe said. “A legend, a good teammate, a champion.”
Dodgers catching prospect Keibert Ruiz met Ortiz on Saturday.
“It’s awesome. Unbelievable. I saw David Ortiz with Boston Red Sox hitting home runs and then I saw he was manager in the futures game, unbelievable,” he said.
Ruiz said Ortiz offered a tip, too: “Just see the ball and hit it hard.”
After signing autographs and chatting with fans, Ortiz took on another role before the first pitch— team photographer. Standing in the midst of his players, he grabbed a camera to snap a couple selfies.
“I have some work to do,” he said earlier.
Ortiz, who will serve as a TV analyst for Fox during the All-Star Game, was lured into this event by longtime buddy Torii Hunter, the manager for the U.S. team.
“I thought it would be something special because we’ve always been together with the Twins, we played together, went to the postseason together. I got beat by him in the postseason,” Hunter said. “We have a bond, man. He’s one of my best friends in the game. I thought it would be cool for media, for fans and Major League Baseball.”
“We got a fun rivalry. It’s just something we’ve always done. We’ve been competitive. David would hit a home run in the minor leagues, I tried to hit one. He would try to hit one further, then I would try to hit one further. We had some fun along the way and always been competitive, even as teammates. … Once we got off the field, he’s my friend. On the field, he’s my frenemy,” he said.
Wearing his familiar No. 34, with a Dominican Republic flag patch on the front of his red jersey and a Boston “B” logo on his shoulder, Ortiz now works for the Red Sox in a variety of capacities. He led them to three World Series championships, was a 10-time All-Star and hit most of his 541 homers with the club.
Ortiz retired after the 2016 season. He stays in regular contact with All-Star outfielder Mookie Betts and delights in seeing Boston bash the ball all around the park.
“Woo!!!” Ortiz hollered, rattling the wall in his manager’s office.
Those Red Sox own the best record in the majors, having gone on a quite a roll going into break. Kind of makes Ortiz want to grab a bucket of popcorn, sit back in a comfortable seat and take in the winning show.
“Like watching a movie you know it’s going to end up,” he said.