FORT MYERS, Fla. — Aside from John Farrell, maybe the person happiest to see David Ortiz stroll into the clubhouse at 8 a.m. Tuesday morning was Hanley Ramirez.
Ramirez was just 21 when he made his Major League debut on Sept. 20, 2005 against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, entering the game as a defensive replacement in the bottom of the seventh, striking out in his first at-bat in the top of the eighth against Tim Corcoran.
He appeared in only one other game that season and struck out again. Those were his only previous games played as a teammate of Big Papi.
“I don’t know that guy,” Ramirez joked when asked Tuesday about being reunited with Ortiz.
But the truth is that Ramirez and Ortiz have kept a close relationship over the years and the two workout together in the offseason in the Dominican.
“He’s a like a brother to me. Everybody pretty much looks up to him because of the heart he’s got and the way he plays the game and how much love he has for the game. Everybody respects him.
“What can I say about Papi? Those who know Papi know he’s [respected] because of his heart. He does on the field and off the field so many good things. We love Papi. He’s the man.”
Ramirez, now 31, can learn a lot from Ortiz, eight years his elder.
“He’s got some tricks at the plate. When you get old, you have to find way to get hits. So, it’s nice when your ability starts going down a little bit, you have to start on working on little things. I was with him in the Dominican this past offseason and he was working every day. He doesn’t stop working. That’s the key for him.”
Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval were acquired this offseason for bigger protection behind the biggest bopper of them all in Boston.
“When you’ve got a guy like Papi in the lineup, it makes our job easier,” Ramirez said. “Not only that but now I’m hitting behind him. When I used to watch him and try to learn a lot of things from him. Now, you have to protect him in the lineup. It’s something that doesn’t come overnight. It takes work and it’s what I see Papi do every day. He always try to get better and better and better and he’s so competitive. He loves the game and he’s still playing.”
Ramirez indulged reporters who wanted to tease him and Ortiz about their age, joking with Ramirez that Ortiz is actually 55.
“He don’t look like 55 to me,” Ramirez said. “He’s still waking up early every day, and goes to the gym and then goes to the field. Usually, with a guy like him, [the message is] if he does it, why don’t you?”
Someone then asked Ramirez if he’s 54 years old. “No, 53.”
All kidding aside, many see the biggest issue for Ramirez as transitioning from shortstop to left field. But not to Ramirez himself.
“No. Just come in and keep working to get better every day,” Ramirez said. “I’m not trying to put that much pressure on me where I can go out there and just relax and keep working. Like I say, hopefully it’s not going to be that hard but I heard sometimes it’s the wind and when the ball hits the wall and those kind of ricochet and that’s what we’re working on right now.”
Ramirez was reminded of the heritage of left fielders at Fenway, starting with Ted Williams and continuing with Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, Mike Greenwell and Manny Ramirez.
“I know, I know but what can I do? Maybe I can fill up half of that,” Ramirez said. “I pretty much do know that at first, at the beginning of my career, playing at Fenway was a little bit hard. But they work to be one of the best. That’s what I’m going to do right now.”
Asked whether he hopes this is final destination after stops in Miami and Los Angeles, Ramirez replied, “Hopefully but I’m just looking forward to these couple of years first, playing in what I can call my hometown. So, it’s going to be a great moment if I can end up my career here and I can work with the Red Sox in the future.”
Reporting time: Ortiz arrived just in time to receive hugs from several teammates, including Christian Vazquez, Xander Bogaerts and Ramirez. He unpacked his belongings and then got ready for his physical at 9 a.m. and his sit down with John Farrell an hour later. The same will take place with all position players on Tuesday. With Ortiz in camp, all players are accounted for on the eve of the club’s first full squad workout on Wednesday at JetBlue Park.