CLEVELAND >> Big Papi's about to take one more trip around.
One of baseball's most clutch hitters, David Ortiz has always had an impeccable knack for drama. Few players seized the moment quite like Boston's big bopper.
And, as he prepares for his 20th major league season, Ortiz feels it's time to take his last cuts.
"I'm ready to pass the torch," he said.
On Monday, he begins his long goodbye.
A beloved New England sports icon, Ortiz, the man with the massive swing, smile and larger-than-life personality, will play the first game of his final season as the Red Sox visit the Cleveland Indians. Ortiz announced his retirement in November on his 40th birthday, and he'll spend 2016 on a farewell tour, taking a bow for a career filled with memories.
"Nothing is forever," he said. "It's just time to do different things."
The first step of Ortiz's walk-off season isn't the only storyline as the Red Sox make their only visit to Progressive Field, which has been improved during the offseason with a new, massive, high-definition scoreboard that the Indians, who have one of the majors' best pitching staff, hope inspires them to score more runs.
The opener will also mark Boston manager John Farrell's return to the dugout after he stepped away last August to receive medical treatment for non-Hodgkin's Burkitt lymphoma. The Red Sox announced his cancer was in remission a few weeks following last season, and the opener represents another significant date for the 53-year-old.
Farrell's comeback coincides with the Boston debut of ace David Price, who agreed to $217 million, seven-year contract with the club in December. The left-hander will start the opener against Cleveland's Corey Kluber, the 2014 Cy Young Award winner looking to bounce back from a 16-loss season and help the Indians close the gap on Kansas City in the AL Central.
While Ortiz's sendoff in Cleveland doesn't have a major sentimental tie, there is a significant connection.
Ortiz helped Boston end its 86-year World Series drought while playing under Indians manager Terry Francona, the Red Sox skipper from 2004-11.
Francona considers Ortiz the consummate player and teammate — on the field and in the clubhouse.
"I went through the gamut with David," Francona said. "From watching him win games in the World Series to when he was on his back to struggling and having to pinch hit for him. We kinda came full circle. Regardless, the thing I'm probably most appreciative of when we had problems and had to fight through them — we did. He's a really proud guy. He's somebody I care about a lot and I'm glad he's going out on his own terms."
The Indians will be the first opposing team to celebrate Ortiz's illustrious career, which began in 1997 with Minnesota. The club will honor him with a tribute and gift on Thursday, and by the time October arrives, Ortiz will have been saluted with standing ovations and likely presented with everything from rocking chairs to golf clubs.
Ortiz hopes to savor every moment, but doesn't want his final season to detour the Red Sox from accomplishing all they can.
"I'm not planning to put a lot of pressure on myself," he said. "Besides being my last season I also know this is a job I have to continue doing. I'm just going to take things day by day. Hopefully there are not going to be any distractions for my teammates or myself. I need to focus on what I like to do.
"That's the only way I can play the game. I'm the type of player who can't get away with not focusing. I've got of focus. I have to be on it. I like to help out the younger players. I know there are going to be a lot of teams out there trying to congratulate me. And I really appreciate that, but I don't want it to be a distraction either. I hope everything goes smooth."
NOTES: Following a workout at Progressive Field, Ortiz and Price attended the NBA game between Charlotte and Cleveland. ... As expected, the Indians placed OFs Michael Brantley (shoulder) and Lonnie Chisenhall (wrist) on the 15-day disabled list. Brantley underwent surgery in October and had hoped to be ready for opening day. ... Cleveland also purchased the contracts of OF Marlon Byrd and LHP Ross Detwiler from Triple-A Columbus and designated LHP Giovanni Soto and INF Zach Walters for assignment.