Red Sox: David Ortiz returns to Minnesota for final time

Sep 15, 2015; Baltimore, MD, USA; Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz (34) warms up in on the on-deck circle during the first inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 15, 2015; Baltimore, MD, USA; Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz (34) warms up in on the on-deck circle during the first inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports /

David Ortiz returns to Minnesota to face the team that he started his career with when the Boston Red Sox take on the Twins.

For fans of the Minnesota Twins, David Ortiz will always be the one that got away.

Long before Big Papi became a household name, before we knew him as one of the game’s most feared left-handed power hitters, Ortiz was merely a guy fighting for playing time with the Twins. He made his big league debut in 1997 with Minnesota, where he would spend the first six years of his career.

While he saw some time at first base during his early years, Ortiz spent the bulk of his time as a designated hitter, a position he would later revolutionize by become the greatest hitter to ever fill that role on a regular basis. Yet the Twins failed to appreciate him for what he was, instead finding his lack of versatility as more of a hindrance to their roster. Despite setting career highs with 20 home runs and an .839 OPS in 125 games, Minnesota released Ortiz following the 2002 season.

The rest, as they say, is history. The Boston Red Sox picked Ortiz up off the scrap heap, hoping he could be useful as a platoon player that would give them some left-handed pop off the bench. Instead, he defied expectations by transforming himself into one of the top power-hitters in the game.

More from BoSox Injection

It didn’t take long after he came to the Red Sox for Ortiz to force his way into an everyday starting role. His playing time was sporadic early in the season, resulting in only 128 games played, but Ortiz still managed to smash 31 home runs and drive in 101 during his first year in Boston, which was good enough to finish fifth in MVP voting. Ortiz would go on to earn 9 All-Star selections and finish within the top-10 in MVP voting six times.

Needless to say, the Twins organization remains bitter over their decision to give up on Ortiz too quickly. Teams never want to be reminded of their mistakes, but this is one part of Minnesota’s past that will inevitably be drudged up this weekend when Ortiz makes his final trip to the city he started his career with when the Red Sox take on the Twins at Target Field.

As Ortiz makes the rounds of his retirement tour, his final visit to an opposing ballpark is often greeted with a ceremony in his honor. One might expect that to be a bit awkward in Minnesota, given that they would essentially be honoring the biggest mistake in franchise history.

"“I’m hoping that he’ll enjoy the little ceremony that we have for him,” said Twins traveling secretary Mike Herman, who knows Ortiz from his days in the organization. “I don’t really know the details of it. But it’s probably a touchy thing for our executives to praise him for the work that he’s done when we wish it could’ve been done here.”"

For Ortiz, the return will be bittersweet. The Twins are the organization that gave him his first taste of the big leagues. He has many great memories of his time there, but also some that weren’t so great. During his time in Minnesota, Ortiz was forced to play more first base than he ever had to in Boston, which made it more difficult to stay healthy as a man his size playing on the artificial turf of the old Metrodome. He also clashed with his manager over his pull-heavy swing and struggled to find consistent playing time.

Then of course came his release, arguably the low point of his career. Despite some mutual issues between he and the team, Ortiz was crushed when he found out the Twins were releasing him.

"“I’m not going to lie to you, that was tough,” said Ortiz. “Minnesota has a lot of good people. I had a lot of friends there. None of them are playing anymore — I’m like the last dinosaur roaming from there — but I had to leave my boys. That wasn’t easy.”"

Parting is such sweet sorrow. As difficult as it was for Ortiz to leave, getting released by the Twins turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to him. He moved on to Boston, where he became a superstar, the face of the franchise and a beloved icon.

Ortiz’s arrival played a significant part in the Red Sox vanquishing 86 years of misery by winning the World Series in only his second season with the team. It would be the first of three titles that Ortiz would win as a member of the Red Sox, with the team aiming to make it a fourth before he retires at the end of this season.

In case you’re wondering, the Twins haven’t won the World Series since 1991, long before Ortiz made it to the big leagues.

Minnesota’s loss was our gain, a fact they are reminded of every time the Red Sox come to town. At least they can take solace in knowing that this will be the last time their fans have to face the stabbing pain of Ortiz racking up prolific numbers against them, rather than for them.

Next: An in-depth look at Jason Groome

While other teams are celebrating the great accomplishments that have made Ortiz one of the biggest stars in the game, the Twins are simply celebrating the chance to finally move on from a decision that has haunted them for years.