When asked about his role models as a young player, the Braves’ Marcell Ozuna began naming players.
Plácido Polanco …
Martín Prado …
“I got a bunch of guys,” Ozuna said.
After a pause, he added: “I’m always talking with Big Papi.”
Like, that Big Papi?
Throughout Ozuna’s career, Ortiz has given him advice. Sometimes, Ortiz will watch video of Ozuna’s at-bats and offer his feedback.
If Ozuna reaches out, Ortiz will say: “I gotta watch the video. Let me see what’s going on with you.”
Then after he looks at the video, Ortiz will offer his thoughts.
“Hey, you’re doing this,” he might tell Ozuna. “Stay patient. The result is going to come, so don’t rush.”
This, of course, has been special for Ozuna.
“He’s my idol,” Ozuna said of Ortiz.
In fact, Ozuna has four baseball idols: Ortiz, Pedro Martinez, Manny Ramirez and Vladimir Guerrero. Like Ozuna, they are from the Dominican Republic.
“I always saw them like the (sky’s the limit),” he said.
Ozuna always had seen Ortiz in the Dominican Republic. But he never had a natural connection to introduce himself until the Marlins called him up in 2013. At that point, both players were major leaguers.
Ozuna and Ortiz began talking. They exchanged phone numbers.
“About hitting,” Ozuna said, “he’s always talking to me and he says, ‘Don’t rush. Wait for your pitch and then be ready to hit it up the middle. No pressure.’”
Ozuna last reached out to Ortiz before the Braves played in Oakland at the end of May. At that point, Ozuna had turned the corner.
In March and April, Ozuna went 4-for-59.
In May, he hit .297 with a .986 OPS over 91 at-bats. He homered nine times and drove in 20 runs across 24 games. So he looked much better when he last talked to Ortiz.
“I saw you. You’re coming back,” Ortiz told Ozuna before the Braves played the Athletics. “I knew it and I believe it because I’ve known you for a long time.”
Ozuna, who this season reached 10 years of major league service time, is a supportive figure for the Braves’ younger players. Even when he began the season in a somewhat historic slump, he remained positive. All along, he continued offering words of encouragement to young players.
And just this week, Michael Harris II revealed this: On the night before his best game of the season, Ozuna gave him a pep talk that fueled him.
This is far from the first time anyone around the Braves – players, coaches, front office – has mentioned Ozuna being a positive influence in the clubhouse.
“He’s definitely that kind of ballplayer,” Ronald Acuña Jr. said through interpreter Franco García. “And I think he’s always been that kind of guy, that teammate, that companion, that when he sees some of the younger guys sort of put their heads down or slumping or struggling, whatever it is, he’ll always come and sort of support us and just give us encouraging messages. That’s the guy he is, and that’s what he does for all of us.”
Ozuna tries to tell players that in baseball, hitters won’t always hit well. They must make adjustments and stay positive. He tells them the key is being mentally strong.
Here and there, Ozuna and Ortiz will connect. Ortiz will help Ozuna.
For a player who idolizes Ortiz, this is really cool.
“It means a lot for me,” Ozuna said. “Some people have more experience than I. They give me advice, and I just take it. Even if it’s a young kid that doesn’t have experience, I have to take it because you’re learning every day.”