ST. PETERSBURG — David Ortiz chatted in Spanish with a Louisville Slugger rep at his locker stall Thursday afternoon, undressing as he placed a bat order. At first oblivious to the mob of media that had massed behind him, he eventually turned and smiled, hands on hips.
"We're watching you get dressed," someone offered as an icebreaker.
"Now I'm watching you," the Red Sox designated hitter responded.
In a locker room of personalities that run from edgy to edgier, Ortiz, 32, is sometimes the comic relief, sometimes the voice of reason.
Lavish with his praise for the Rays despite the thorn they have become to the Red Sox, he seems pleasantly dumbfounded by the throng of reporters he has come so accustomed to entertaining in other cities waiting for him to change his pants at Tropicana Field.
"How many times do you come to Tampa in October? Not that many; first time," he said. "I was barely here, and I was like, 'Wow.' To walk through the (player entrance), man it's a mission. There's stuff everywhere.
"But it's good. I think it's good for the game having Tampa in the playoffs. I think people get tired of seeing the same team every year over and over and over. People got tired of the Yankees. Hopefully, they don't get tired of seeing us."
Rays pitchers might soon tire of Ortiz. Check that. They already have.
Don't be fooled by his symbolic welcome-to-the-playoffs plate of cookies. Facing the Rays is a welcome prospect, especially after a frustrating season in which he missed 53 games with wrist and knee injuries (producing fewer than 35 homers and 117 RBIs for the first time since 2003) and an equally discouraging American League Division Series against Anaheim (in which he hit .235).
In the regular season, Ortiz hit .264 with 23 homers and 89 RBIs. But in 117 career games against the Rays, he has hit .304 with 34 home runs and 99 RBIs. And at Tropicana Field, it's .304, 23 and 52, respectively, in 54 games.
His last swing through Tropicana Field was memorable. On Sept. 17, he mashed a Matt Garza pitch that lodged in the D-ring catwalk in right and did not come down. Home run. He finished the three-game set 4-for-8 with three homers and seven RBIs although the Rays won twice to maintain the division lead.
Ortiz is 5-for-10 for his career against Game 1 starter James Shields.
"I've always told people he's one of the most feared hitters in the box," Shields, 26, said. "We've just got to be careful. I'm going to try to hopefully get the guys out beforehand. And if he hits one off me, hopefully it's a solo home run."
Good idea. Because now Big Papi is watching.