When David Ortiz signed with the Red Sox in 2003, he joined a crowded roster. Playing time was not guaranteed. He was constantly fighting for playing time and an opportunity to impress came on April 27th. Leading off the 14th inning he belted a solo home run to give the Red Sox a lead against the Angels. It was the first of many times he would come through clutch for the Red Sox, and his first home run in a Red Sox uniform.
Ortiz joined a group that consisted of Bill Mueller, Shea Hillenbrand, Jeremy Giambi and Kevin Millar. In the first 61 games he just started 32 of them, with most starts coming at first base. He was getting frustrated, as guys starting over him were not performing well.
“In May or June, David called me and he was [upset] that he wasn’t getting any at-bats,” said Cuza, Ortiz's agent. “Giambi was getting all the at-bats. He called and said, ‘Get up here. I want to get the hell out of here.’ I said, ‘Just calm down.’
“I got on a plane, went up there, and just calmed him down. He said, ‘I’ve got to get out of here. I’m not getting at-bats. I’m wasting my career here.’ I met with Theo. Theo said, ‘Give me a couple days. He’ll be in the lineup.’
“That was a close call. [Ortiz] was so [upset] sitting on the bench behind a guy hitting a buck-eighty.”
Ortiz delivered the first of many 100+ RBI seasons in 2003
Photo Courtesy of Al Bello/Getty Images
Theo kept his word and traded Hillenbrand later in May. That allowed opportunity for Ortiz. He received his first back-to-back starts as the designated hitter on June 10-11, 2003. Without fighting for playing time early in his career, Ortiz may have never became the player he is today.
“Sometimes I think you have to hit bottom before you realize how good you have it or what you have to do to maintain your job,” said Cuza. “David’s gone through his career with this passion, like he doesn’t want anyone to take his job.
“Going through that experience of being non-tendered and going through weeks of not having a job, he saw that he was one step away from not making it. He played with a different intensity [after that].
“Once he found the opportunity, he never let that go. That was the turning point. That was the turning point for his whole career.”
Later in the season, he delivered his first of many, many walk off hits with the Red Sox. It came on July 26th when he doubled off the monster to give the Red Sox a 5-4 win over the...... Yankees, I bet you're not surprised. He didn't even start that game, but that pinch hit walkout started a clutch trend.
But Ortiz wasn't done showing off his magic in his first season in Boston. A 10th inning bomb over the monster on September 23rd propelled the Red Sox over the Orioles.
Ortiz took his opportunity and ran with it. In 2003 he batted .288/.369/.592 with 31 home runs and 101 RBIs. He took the DH job and never looked back, becoming one of the best to ever do it in the process.
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