SOMEWHERE ALONG I-65—Best buddies Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, both of whom find themselves at professional crossroads and both desperately wanting to rekindle their friendship, decided on Sunday that a soul-searching road trip was the key to resolving their personal problems.
"I called David and I said, 'David! Hey, David! It's Manny. Road trip, man! Let's do this!' And he said, 'Okay,' and now he is with me in the car here," Ramirez told reporters in a cell phone interview while driving on the interstate. "Papi isn't hitting so good, and I'm not even playing, and we miss each other and love each other, and because we play on different baseball teams now, I play on the Los Angeles Dodgers, and he plays for the Boston Red Sox, I think, and we don't get to spend quality time with each other like we did when we played on the same team, you know?"
"Uh-oh, it says Corvette Museum next right. I got to go, man," Ramirez added. "Hey, Papi, do we have any more Slim Jims?"
According to sources, Ramirez pulled up to Ortiz's Weston, MA home last Sunday, a selection of Tom Petty hits blaring from the stereo of his faded red 1966 Ford Galaxie 500 convertible. After embracing each other, a visibly somber Ortiz told Ramirez, "I don't know what's going on with me, man. I'm not hitting the baseball." Ortiz then threw his battered duffel bag in the car's backseat and asked Ramirez where they were headed.
Ramirez responded, "Just get in."
Several seconds after pulling out of Ortiz's driveway, the car's rear bumper fell off and the overstuffed trunk sprung open, sending a food-laden cooler, several bags, and a shoe box marked "fireworks" out onto the road.
According to eyewitness accounts, the former teammates have been crisscrossing the country with no apparent final destination. They have taken pictures of each another in front of the world's biggest hockey stick in Eveleth, MN; the world's tallest thermometer in Baker, CA; the giant fiberglass muskellunge at the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame in Hayward, WI; and while dressed in Lazer Tag uniforms at the Fun Fest Entertainment Center in Harmarville, PA.
While both Ortiz and Ramirez have spent the majority of their trip laughing and reminiscing about when they were the most feared hitting tandem in baseball, their journey has not been without its serious moments. Ortiz reportedly made Ramirez spit out human growth hormone pills in a Motel 6 bathroom in Columbia, MS, and then forced him to flush the rest of his steroid-filled syringes down the toilet.
Ramirez and Ortiz also got into a shouting match in Abilene, TX, when in an attempt to reinvigorate Ortiz's passion for baseball, Ramirez tried to make his best friend watch a Little League ball game.
"You said there would be no baseball," said Ortiz, refusing to leave the car. "I hate baseball. I can't hit the baseball. You know that. If you care so much about me and baseball, why you leave me? Why you leave me by myself in Boston, Manny? Why you do that? Why you act so bad? Boston's a good place."
"You need to deal with that, man. You need to come to terms," Ramirez said. "I never going back to Boston. But, man, look at these kids. This is baseball, man. Little kids having fun and not injecting themselves with steroids and women pills and just stepping up there and hitting the ball. You gotta face it, man. We gotta face it together."
"Everybody's left me, you know?" Ortiz responded, tears streaming down his face. "You left me, Pedro left me. The only one who doesn't leave is Jason [Varitek], and he don't talk to me. He don't talk to anyone."
Witnesses at the scene said that, as the two sluggers cried in each other's arms, Ramirez and Ortiz's attention focused on the Little League diamond, where a player had just hit a walk-off home run. Ramirez whispered to Ortiz, "That is like you in the playoffs, man, but bigger. Remember that? You just go up there and hit the ball. You don't need to think. You're Big Papi. You go up there and be Big Papi."
Ramirez and Ortiz were subsequently sighted exiting a Terre Haute, IN 7-Eleven store wearing Indianapolis 500 baseball caps and brand new neon-orange sunglasses.
"The bigger one kept asking if he should get the hat, and the other one said he would buy one if [Ortiz] did," 7-Eleven cashier Kip Petrun told reporters. "They must have tried on sunglasses for 30 minutes."
"Before they left the parking lot they argued over whose turn it was to pick the music," Petrun added. "I'm pretty sure they settled on that song 'Life Is A Highway,' because they both started singing it at the top of their lungs. I think they said they were going to Nebraska to pick up their friend Pedro something."
The trip reportedly culminated with Ramirez taking Ortiz to a batting cage in St. George, UT. Though Ortiz missed the first several balls, Ramirez told Ortiz that he knew he could do it, and that even if they were no longer teammates, they would always be best friends. Ortiz then began hitting ball after ball, the last five of which hit the "home run" net.
"I can do it. I can hit the baseball again!" Ortiz yelled as he and Manny pointed at each other. "And you can hit the baseball without taking steroids, Manny. I know you can. Hopefully I can, too."
During a tender moment at the Grand Canyon later that night, tourists said that while seated on the hood of their car, Ortiz placed a blanket around a shivering Ramirez and told him, "You're my best friend, man. You're my best friend."
The car's hood then caved in, sending both players into a fit of hysterical laughter.