FORT MYERS, Fla. — David Ortiz, who arrived in Boston 13 springs ago as a castoff, and will depart this fall with the greatest legacy by a Red Sox hitter since Ted Williams, kept trying to come up with the right words.
He started. Stopped. Looked down. Away. And up again.
The only man in the last century to win three Red Sox World Series championship rings, and will be remembered for his impassioned speech after the Boston Marathon bombing, Ortiz wanted to make sure this message was perfectly delivered.
“I was never trying to be a role model,’’ Ortiz, 40, told USA TODAY Sports in front of his locker Tuesday afternoon. “I don’t really want people to look at me like a role model. When I look at role models, they want you to be perfect.
“Only God is perfect.
“All I was trying to do, was do the right things.’’
One of only four players with three World Series rings and 500 homers (Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle and Reggie Jackson), you know what Ortiz is most proud of in his career?
His nearly flawless conduct.
“I never did anybody wrong,’’ Ortiz said. “All I did was make friends in the game, on the field and off the field. You go around the league, you ask them about me, I don’t think anybody would have anything bad to say.’’
Ok, maybe he can be prone to a bit of showboating on the field. His home run off All-Star pitcher All-Star pitcher David Price ignited hostilities, which were doused Monday once they saw one another.
Yet, in his entire 19-year career, his record has been clean. No publicized incidents. No charges or arrests. No embarrassing TMZ clips. Not even a speeding ticket.
“I’m very proud of that,’’ Ortiz said. “I tried to be careful, and avoid negative things my entire career. There were always a lot of things that could happen, but you avoid things. If you have a few drinks, you call for a driver. If you get mad, you just walk away.
“That’s why I feel bad now. You’re seeing a lot of these guys get into trouble, like domestic violence.’’
Commissioner Rob Manfred is expected to make a ruling this week on at least two of three domestic violence incidents involving Jose Reyes of the Colorado Rockies, Aroldis Chapman of the New York Yankees and Yasiel Puig of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Reyes was the only one who was arrested and charged with domestic violence, but all three face potential discipline.
“These are good guys, I feel so bad for them,’’ Ortiz said. “I know Jose well. Jose is not a trouble maker. He’s a good guy.’’
Reyes was arrested on Oct. 31 in Hawaii when he allegedly grabbed his wife’s throat, and pushed her into a sliding glass door during an argument. Reyes plead not guilty.
“That’s not the Jose I know,’’ Ortiz said. “He’s a good kid. But people are going crazy and want to judge him.
“It was something that got out of control, but only he and his wife know exactly what happened. People already are making a judgement on him.
“I just don’t think that’s fair.’’
The only negative blip off-the-field during Ortiz’s entire career was the New York Times report that he was among the 104 names of players who tested positive during the anonymous drug test in 2003. Ortiz acknowledged his name was on the list, but says he still does not know what over-the-counter supplement triggered the positive test.
“As an athlete, you’ve got to be particularly careful,’’ Ortiz said. “A lot of people are watching. I’m proud to say that nothing ever bad happened to me.
“I always went about things the right way.’’
Ortiz, one of the greatest DHs in history, symbolized Boston’s historic resurgence. He not only became one of most revered players in Red Sox history, but truly an ambassador for the city.
It was Ortiz who uttered the most famous words in Boston since Paul Revere, when he addressed the emotional Fenway Park crowd after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing: “This is our (expletive) city. Nobody is going to dictate our freedom. Stay strong.’’
Red Sox catcher Ryan Hanigan, a Boston native said: “No one’s ever going to forget that speech. What he’s done for our team, our city, he’ll never be forgotten. He loves the city, and they love him back.’’
Even though Ortiz was born and raised in the Dominican Republic, played for Seattle and Minnesota, and even spent his winters in Green Bay, Wis., it’s as if he’s spent his entire life in New England.
“When you look around the game,’’ Red Sox president Dave Dombrowski said, “this is as close a bond between a player and the city in the game of baseball. When you talk about what he accomplished, what the team accomplished, his ability, and his length of time here, very few guys mean that much to his city.’’
It was love at first sight, turning into a perfect marriage, with a relationship that will last forever.
“The first time I ever played at Fenway Park, it made me feel like I was playing back in my country …’’ Ortiz said. “Red Sox fans, man, they are just like us. It was easy for me to adjust myself to our fans. Every time we lose a game, I suffered, just like them. It’s so important to win. And all of a sudden you don’t, it’s something that gets to you.
“And Red Sox fans, that’s how it always has been.’’
The 86-year curse finally ended in 2004 when Ortiz led the Red Sox to the World Series championship, recovering from a 3-0 deficit in the ALCS to beat the Yankees, and then sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. They won again in 2007. And once again in 2013.
Yet, it was the 2004 season that will forever be cherished, changing not only the fate of a player, but an entire franchise.
“The Yankees were the team to beat back then,’’ Ortiz said. “Being able to do what we did, was something that was very special. It was career-lifting for me.’’
It was the birth of a legend.
“Everybody gets that moment when you feel like it’s time to go,’’ Ortiz said. “I’m ready to pass the torch.
“Wow, it’s been an unbelievable journey.’’