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Wednesday, December 15, 2021

David Ortiz is the breakout TV star of these MLB playoffs

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Before Game 1 of the World Series, Fox Sports’ pregame had a feature to promote its betting app. It is where we are in sports — with gambling taking over.

The come-on is to win $25,000 that is presented as David Ortiz’s money from Fox Bet. Ortiz had a gold briefcase with cash in it.

After Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez made their picks for Game 1, the third analyst Frank Thomas waffled and did not make a choice.

Big Papi started throwing the cash at him. Rodriguez then joined in. The host, Kevin Burkhardt, chided Thomas for not choosing between Houston or Altanta.

Ortiz, with his ebullient personality shining through, fueled the segment. It was like a peak inside a clubhouse with some good-natured ribbing. It was fun.

It was another reason why Ortiz’s energy and presence have made him the breakout TV star this October.

As a player, Ortiz took a little while to bloom, but he became a star on the field in part because of his personality and his ability to come up large in big spots. He brought a curse-breaking charisma to the Red Sox clubhouse. And, in doing so, he became the center of Boston’s baseball universe. He has done it again on Fox’s pre- and-postgame show because of his infectious charisma.

“I walk into the green room and I’m screaming and they know Papi is in the building,” Ortiz told The Post before Game 2 of the World Series.

Alex Rodriguez (left) and David Ortiz during the 2018 postseason.
Alex Rodriguez (left) and David Ortiz during the 2018 postseason.
Getty Images

When Ortiz began on Fox four years ago, he was swinging at everything, talking too much, a little too overwhelming. Now, he is picking his spots better. Ortiz, to his credit, emphasized how he was there to learn.

Ortiz and A-Rod have developed into a Red Sox-Yankees 3-4 in the Fox order that makes A-Rod’s work in studio superior to his game analysis on “Sunday Night Baseball.” Papi makes A-Rod looser. Rodriguez is better, to borrow one of his pet phrases, in “small bites.”

During the ALCS, Fox put its crew outside of Fenway on Jersey Street. The fans were chanting at Rodriguez in colorful language, indicating that they did not think he was that good.

Fox leaned into the players’ history, having Ortiz put on Red Sox gear and A-Rod don a Yankees helmet. While you couldn’t really hear their analysis too well, it gave you the raw emotion of being outside on Yawkey Way. It was fun, though we were slightly concerned for Rodriguez’s safety.

“He was with me,” Ortiz said, meaning the Red Sox fans wouldn’t dare do anything with him around.

Brad Zager, Fox Sports executive vice president, likes to say that studio shows are a team sport — and you can see it in the pregame. It is just four guys hanging out and laughing together.

Unlike football, baseball has not really had its top star personalities on the pregame shows. Turner/MLBN have found something with Pedro Martinez, while Ortiz is in the center of Thomas and Rodriguez.

“These guys have become rock stars,” Zager said.

It feels big.

David Ortiz MLB playoffs Fox Sports
David Ortiz
Getty Images

Zager and Ortiz give a lot of that credit to Fox Sports vice president of production Bardia Shah-Rais and coordinating producer Jonathan Kaplan. When ex-players are judged if they are good on TV, it generally is done in a black-and-white fashion, as if they are the only ones who determine their success. It takes the right grouping and circumstances.

“Those two guys build my confidence.” Ortiz said of Shah-Rais and Kaplan. “They have become family to me.”

To use a sports analogy, Fox has a setup with a great quarterback in Burkhardt and the coaches, Zager, Shah-Rais and Kaplan, are emphasizing the strengths of Ortiz, Rodriguez and Thomas.

“People connect with people that are enjoying what they are doing,” Zager said. “That’s what sports is always supposed to be — fun.”

Ortiz is also doing it all in a second language, which is something that always seems underappreciated from foreign-born players in baseball. But the real language that cuts through is Ortiz’s joy for the sport and being alive.

“It is amazing how much more comfortable he is,” Zager said.

Clicker book club

Our own Big Papi, Papa Clicker, will stick with the New England theme for his latest book review. Seth Wickersham’s “It’s Better to Be Feared: The New England Patriots Dynasty and the Pursuit of Greatness” goes all in on the franchise’s amazing run. The book has already made headlines and now it gets Papa Clicker seal of approval with a “You will enjoy it” score of 4.4 out of 5.


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