It would be stretching the truth for Mariners left fielder Raul Ibanez to say he knew in 1993 that David Ortiz would rank among the greatest designated hitters in baseball history.
Still, Ibanez insists he had a hunch.
Back then, Ibanez and Ortiz, who still used his mother’s original surname and was known as David Arias, were teammates on the Mariners’ instructional league club in Arizona. Ortiz was only 17, having been signed out of the Dominican Republic one year earlier, but Ibanez recalls being struck by his advanced approach at the plate.

“Even as a kid, what impressed me the most about him was the power that he had to left-center field and the quality of his swing,” Ibanez said before the Red Sox’ 10-inning 8-7 victory over the Mariners yesterday, one day after Ortiz surpassed Harold Baines’ mark for career hits by a DH with his 1,689th. “Of course, he’s definitely improved since then. But even when he was 17, 18 years old, he was not just swinging. He was hitting.”

The Mariners shipped Ortiz to the Twins in 1996 to complete a trade for veteran third baseman Dave Hollins, and the Red Sox signed him as a free agent after the 2002 season. And it’s with the Sox that Ortiz emerged as Big Papi, a feared middle-of-the-order slugger for the past 11 seasons.

As a longtime opponent, Ibanez has admired Ortiz’ ability not only to hit titanic home runs but also to pepper The Wall at Fenway Park with doubles to the opposite field.