Ortiz's father enjoys son's new popularity

October 19, 2004|By Kathy McCabe | Kathy McCabe,BOSTON GLOBE

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic -- Americo Enrique Ortiz woke up yesterday feeling the same way everyone else did in Red Sox Nation: sleepy but ecstatic.

But Ortiz also felt like the father of a hero. His son, David Ortiz, had added to his long list of clutch performances only hours before with his dramatic 12th-inning home run to beat the New York Yankees, 6-4, in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series, and keep Boston's playoff hopes alive.

And in the eighth inning last night, Big Papi's papa raised his hands in elation as his son struck again, with a bases-empty blast into the Monster Seats over the left-field wall that brought the Red Sox within a run.

"He made me feel good," Ortiz, 50, said as he watched his son's team battle New York in Game 5 in his comfortable apartment in Santo Domingo. "People were calling. Some even called from New York. ... And people stopped me [on the street] saying `Congratulations.' "

Life has changed much for Ortiz since his son slugged his way into the hearts of Red Sox Nation. A quiet man who looks a lot like his chubby-cheeked son, Ortiz is still getting accustomed to his son's superstardom and the attention that has come with it.

"The change has been profound," said Ortiz, who goes by his nickname, Leo, and likes to watch Red Sox games on a big-screen television in a room framed with pictures of his son in action. "There has been a notable increase in interest in him, and our family."

In the baseball-mad Dominican Republic, Ortiz is stepping out of the long shadow cast by Red Sox compatriots Manny Ramirez and Pedro Martinez. The player popularly known as Big Papi has emerged as a national hero, capturing the imagination of everyone.

"David Ortiz," said taxi driver Samuel Antigua. "He's the one player in baseball that has been an important factor in two games."

He was referring to Ortiz's epic Game 4 home run, and the series-clinching home run against the Anaheim Angels that propelled the Red Sox into the American League Championship Series.

"He really is as important as Manny Ramirez and Pedro Martinez," Antigua said.

Yessica Ortiz, David Ortiz's 8-year-old daughter, felt like a star herself when she went to school yesterday.

"Boys greeted her with shouts of `We're winning,' and `Your father is the best,' " said her aunt, Albania Ortiz, 26. "I picked her up from school and kids were saying to her, `Your father is the best.' "

If Ortiz is now in an elite class of superstars, his father takes it all in stride.

Big Papi's papa still works at the auto body shop he owns in the Dominican capital.

A former minor league player in the Dominican, Ortiz never worries when his son steps into the batter's box.

"I know he plays relaxed," Ortiz said, legs calmly crossed as Game 5 wore on. "I know David's style of baseball. If he feels relaxed, I feel relaxed."

Unlike most Red Sox fans, Leo Ortiz did not move to the edge of his seat when David stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the 12th inning early yesterday morning.

"David does not fear any pitcher. I knew if someone was going to get a hit, it was going to be David," he said, a wide grin on his face.

Leo Ortiz smiles a lot these days. About the only thing that makes him somber is the central image in the apartment, a painting of David looking skyward at his mother and Leo's wife, Angela Rosa Arias, who was killed in a car accident in 2002 at age 47.

Ortiz said he is awed by the way Boston has embraced his son.

"I really appreciate how the fans in Boston treat my son. It makes me feel real good," he said.

Ortiz spoke to his son shortly before David Ortiz left for the ballpark yesterday, to prepare for Game 5. There was no talk of a celebration. Only about how the Red Sox could win.

"We talked about how important it was for Pedro to pitch well, and for the rest of the team to take care of the runs," Leo Ortiz said.

Leo Ortiz may still be getting to know Red Sox Nation.

But he knows this: As long as his son is in the Boston lineup, a World Series title isn't an impossible dream.

"David will still be with the team," he said. "There is time to make it to the World Series."

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