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Papi has arrived; Presence continues to grow.

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- David Ortiz arrived here on Tuesday as scheduled, not that there was ever any doubt about that.

He has never been Manny Ramirez, seeing how much he could get away with just for the fun of it. He has never been Roger Clemens, seeing how long the Red Sox could look at his vacant locker before making another unscheduled bank withdrawal.

Everybody's definition of what makes a player a Hall of Famer is different, but Ortiz fits almost every one of them, especially the intangible ones. At some point in his Red Sox career, perhaps after his incomparable offensive performance in the 2013 postseason, he crossed the invisible line to iconic.

As was seen on Tuesday, Ortiz no longer simply makes appearances. There are now Ortiz sightings, fans whispering, "I think that's Big Papi'' to whoever is close by. As word got around the JetBlue Park fields that Ortiz was in the batting cages, a crowd gathered there just to catch a hurried glimpse of him.

When he moved from the cages to Field 1, towel over his head, many in the crowd went with him -- keeping a respectful distance -- and when word got around that Ortiz would be taking swings in public, it was as if the Red Sox had posted a "free clam rolls'' sign over that way, with all scurrying to get a closer look.

Ortiz didn't answer questions about how he feels with one of those, "I'm in the best shape of my career'' responses, since he didn't answer questions, period. His prefab press conference is scheduled for Wednesday.

Manager John Farrell didn't exactly say that Ortiz was in the best shape of his career, but came close with, "He looks like he's in great shape. He's a full go.''

Ortiz is the second-oldest player on the Red Sox roster at 39 and will not turn 40 until Nov. 18.

That makes him about seven months younger than Koji Uehara, and it may also say something about the Sox that their best reliever and best hitter are the oldest players on the roster.

Ortiz was born two years after the American League adopted the designated hitter, and the time has passed where Edgar Martinez can be compared with Ortiz as the best ever, if only because his playoff performances don't match up.

Martinez was a solid DH until he retired in 2004 at age 41, batting .263 with 12 homers and 63 RBIs. A year earlier, Martinez batted .294 with 24 home runs and 98 RBIs.

Last year, Ortiz had his best season since 2006 with 35 home runs and 104 RBIs. He heads into this year with 466 career home runs and an identical performance this season would put him over 500.

"We know he'll be a Red Sox for as long as he wants to be a Red Sox,'' Farrell said. "There's no doubt about that. He's been a part of the Red Sox legacy, and a part of Boston's sports legacy. Right now, he's our DH in the middle of our lineup, and that's our focus.''

How long will Ortiz want to be a Red Sox, and how long will they want him?

Given that his spot on the roster lets him take care of his health, and given that he has shown no signs of losing that 30-homer, 100-RBI ability, Ortiz may even have three or four more productive years left. He has probably reached the Carl Yastrzemski level, where the Sox would never let him finish his career in another uniform, even if they feel his lease has expired.

After all, he has crossed the line from simply David Ortiz, DH to the Hon. David Ortiz, Designated Hitter. How long does he want to keep going?

Maybe he'll tell us Wednesday.

Contact Bill Ballou


Follow him on Twitter @tgredsox.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Feb 25, 2015
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