Surprisingly, there was a time when it didn't look like David Ortiz was going to be a full-time starting ballplayer, much less one of the greatest home run hitters of our era.
Ortiz started his career with the Mariners (where he was known as David Arias), but made his way to the Twins to complete a deal for Dave Hollins in 1996. Only once did he make Baseball America's Top 100 prospects, topping out as the 84th-best youngster in 1998.
Ortiz hit 58 homers in 455 games with Minnesota, but mostly served as a platoon DH/1B. The club released him after the 2002 season to make room for Rule 5 Draft pick Jose Morban, and the rest is history: At age 27, Ortiz signed with the Red Sox and transformed into Big Papi -- the dinger-mashing hero loved by his fans and feared in the late innings by opponents.
On Saturday, the hulking, smiling probable future Hall of Famer mashed his 500th long ball:
Let's take a look back at 10 of his longest, most dramatic and most memorable dingers:
1. The first
Just like your first kiss, you'll always remember your first dinger. On Sept. 14, 1997, Ortiz went deep for the very first time. Facing Julio Santana, the not-yet-Papi drove the ball deep to right field to drive in two.
Even though it was his first, it still retained that wonderful David Ortiz-iness as the young slugger took a 21.45-second home run trot.
2. His first walk-off
For a hitter whose 11 walk-off home runs and countless big hits make us wonder if "clutch" is an actual skill, Ortiz had to start somewhere.
Fittingly, it came in the bottom of the 12th inning and was his last home run as a Twins player.
3. His first Red Sox home run
Imagine you're a Red Sox fan in 2003. Your team has just picked up Ortiz -- a 1B/DH-type who seemed like a useful hitter but hardly a future legend. And then, in the top of the 14th inning of a 4-4 game, Ortiz did this against Mickey Calloway of the Angels.
Maybe you felt something, an intuitive sense that this was a magical player who would someday help deliver a World Series to a team that hadn't won one in nearly a century. But you would have told yourself that this thought was simply a result of staying up past your bedtime for a late West Coast game.
4. ALDS stands for American League Done Series
The Red Sox were already up two games to none as Game 3 of the 2004 ALDS went to extra innings. But Ortiz seems to like wrapping things up nice and tidy. And so he took Jarrod Washburn's offering high over the Monster for a walk-off two-run home run, his arm lifted high in the air as he rounded first. No one knew it at the time, but it would be a signal of things to come.
5. Oh, just the defining home run of the 21st century
Ortiz has 17 October long balls to his name, but none resonate as strongly as the one he hit against the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS.
With the Red Sox trailing the Yankees three games to zero, there was something like a .00000000000000000000000000001 percent chance that they would be moving on to the World Series (and I may be rounding up).
After Boston tied the Yanks at four in the bottom of the ninth of Game 4 thanks to Dave Roberts' steal and Bill Mueller's RBI single, Ortiz did what he does best. (And let's not forget his home runs in Games 5 and 7.)
6. The Red Sox's first World Series home run since 1986
Rich Gedman hit a home run in the second inning of the Red Sox's ill-fated Game 7 loss to the Mets in 1986, but Boston would go nearly two decades before returning to the Fall Classic.
The team wouldn't have to wait long in 2004. With two on in the bottom of the first of Game 1, Ortiz (and his chinstrap beard) took Woody Williams' pitch just fair into the right-field corner. The Red Sox would not trail again that day.
7. Two late HRs against the Tigers in 2005
With so many game-tying and game-winning home runs in his career, you would think Ortiz must have two in one game at some point.
Sure enough, you'd be right. On Aug. 6, 2005, Ortiz tied a game against Detroit in the top of the ninth with a massive blast off of Fernando Rodney. Nate Robertson, who had pitched eight brilliant innings, giving up only two runs, could only look on with a thousand-yard stare.
One inning later, as the Red Sox went on to score seven runs in the top of the 10th (though the Tigers tried valiantly to come back, scoring four in the bottom half), Ortiz was responsible for three of them with his second blast in as many innings.
8. The biggest difference-maker
And if you like your home runs to be the biggest difference-maker in a game, then you'll enjoy Ortiz's two-on, two-out, down-by-two home run in the bottom of the ninth against the Rangers on June 11, 2006. That was worth .899 WPA (Winning Percentage Added). What does that mean? When David Ortiz came to the plate, the Red Sox had a 10.1 percent chance of winning. After his at-bat ... game, set, match.
9. David Ortiz makes a meme
Ortiz was put on this planet to hit home runs in big situations.
The Red Sox were trailing, 4-1, in the bottom of the eighth, in danger of falling into a 2-0 hole in the 2013 ALCS against the Tigers. While the concept of momentum across a full team of individuals is difficult to quantify, once again, David Ortiz is at the intersection of baseball science and faith. For when he hit what would prove to be the game-winning grand slam, inspiring a bullpen cop to raise his arms in triumph over Torii Hunter's dangling feet, well, it really didn't feel like the Red Sox would ever lose another game.
10. His longest home run
While a good portion of Ortiz's career came before 2006, when comprehensive home run distance data became readily available, Ortiz's longest shot since then was this 482-foot dinger off Masahiro Tanaka. Given the number of big home runs that Ortiz has hit against the Yankees in his career, there is poetic beauty in this one.
Bonus: The Home Run Derby belongs to Ortiz
While none of the 32 home runs that Ortiz hit at the 2010 Home Run Derby count toward his official 500, his massive dinger output that day is kind of a perfect encapsulation of his career: Pure, raw power, played on repeat.