"I don't know if I'm supposed to say this," Ramirez said Thursday upon reporting to spring training with the Boston Red Sox. "He told me the other night that -- David, I'm sorry, man, but I've got to do it -- if he tried to come back, I'm one of the reasons he might come back, because we miss each other so much. I know that's not going to happen, but he told me that."
To be clear, it's not going to happen. Ramirez repeated himself later for emphasis -- "David's not coming back. He's home with his family, all right?" -- and Ortiz tweeted confirmation of the conversation referenced by Ramirez but added, "I'm not playing baseball anymore."
So, no, Big Papi isn't coming back. But there's no denying the brotherly bond between Ortiz and Ramirez that has existed for more than a decade and only got stronger in the two seasons they teamed up with the Red Sox.
Ramirez, 33, arrived here Thursday wearing a No. 34 Ortiz T-shirt. He took over Ortiz's spot in the clubhouse, including the two end-row lockers near the door. Ramirez called Ortiz "my big brother that I don't have" and said they talk or text several times a day.
"He's my mentor," Ramirez said. "He's my everything."
In the post-Ortiz era, Ramirez will take over as Boston's primary designated hitter. According to manager John Farrell, Ramirez will be the DH "against all right-handed pitchers" and will play first base against lefties.
But the Red Sox also need Ramirez to replace Ortiz as a leader. At age 33, Ramirez and second baseman Dustin Pedroia are the elder statesmen in an offense that is built around young stars Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. and touted rookie Andrew Benintendi.
And when Ramirez thinks about veteran leadership, the best example he knows to follow is the one Ortiz has set ever since he was the first person to call when Ramirez signed his first big contract with the Florida Marlins in 2008. After Ramirez endured an ill-fated experiment as a left fielder for the Red Sox in 2015, Ortiz was instrumental in helping him refocus as a first baseman and bounce back with 30 homers and 111 RBIs last season.
"The difference between me and David is David, he can talk. I don't like to talk a lot. I'm more quiet," Ramirez said. "David always finds a way to get to know you, to talk to you. That's a good thing. I learned that from him, and that's one of the things I'm going to try to do this year, too.
"He's teaching me, showing me the way to be a leader and a champion, every day. His legacy, his way to play the game, the way to teach people around him, how he tries to make everybody happy around him, David was unbelievable."
Meanwhile, Ramirez will join Red Sox fans in holding a candle for Ortiz, hoping that he is coaxed back to the field by the banalities of retirement.
"I'm still waiting for him to walk into that clubhouse with that big smile," Ramirez said, "hugging everybody, showing that energy around everybody."
For Ortiz, Ramirez said he would even relinquish the DH spot.
"And then I'll go back to left field," Ramirez said with a laugh.
Now there's something that's even more unlikely than an Ortiz comeback.