For many of us, October doesn’t just mean Halloween and all things horror, it also means playoff baseball. Unfortunately, my Boston Red Sox were eliminated last night by the Cleveland Indians. Fenway Park has locked its gates for the winter, but the Boys of Summer will return next April. Only there will be something missing in 2017. There will be no more Big Papi.
David Ortiz has decided to call it a career after nineteen glorious seasons as the best Designated Hitter in baseball. The 40-year-old slugger gave us his all, but the wear and tear on his body told him to make this season his last. And what a tremendous final season it was: .315 Batting Average, 38 Home Runs, 127 RBI, and he led the American League in OPS (1.021), Doubles (48), Slugging Percentage (.620), and Intentional Walks (15). Not bad for an old geezer, and Papi will definitely be in the MVP conversation this offseason!
Ortiz was claimed off the scrap heap by Boston in 2003 after a few unsuccessful years in Minnesota. He spent his first couple of months riding the bench until replacing the immortal Jeremy Giambi in June as the full-time DH. Papi helped lead the team to the ALCS, where we fell to the hated Yankees (curse you, Aaron Boone!). But the next season brought a new attitude, as the band of self-proclaimed “Idiots” charged into the postseason, beating their New York rivals in a grueling seven-game series, and sweeping the vaunted St. Louis Cardinals to win their first World Series in 86 years! The Curse of the Bambino was broken at last, and Big Papi played a huge part in it (.409 avg, 5 HRs, 23 RBI in the playoffs).
One of my fondest Fenway memories was attending Game 5 of the 2004 ALCS. I was supposed to be at Game 3, which was rained out, but the tickets would be honored for Game 5… if necessary. The Yankees had a 3-0 edge, and Ortiz’s walk-off home run in Game 4 made it necessary, so my friends and I drove back up to Boston for the game, and I talked with Red Sox announcer Jerry Remy outside the park, who told me in his infinite baseball wisdom we had to win tonight, because “There’s no tomorrow”. The Fenway Faithful crowd was like a living, breathing organism, ear-splittingly deafening, the entire stadium itself seemed to rock as if an earthquake were occurring. Our Ace, Pedro Martinez, was on the mound, up against crafty right-hander Mike Mussina. The game was back and forth, tied up 4-4 in the 14th inning, when David Ortiz stepped into the batter’s box, two outs, two men on. Big Papi blasted a single to right-center, scoring Johnny Damon, and the crowd went absolutely berserk! Papi was a hero for the second night in a row, and it was truly one of the greatest nights of my life.
Another memory, this time much more somber. The annual Patriots Day game, on April 15, 2013, was a victory for the Sox over Tampa Bay, but the celebration was short as terrorists set off bombs at the Boston Marathon, leaving four dead and hundreds wounded. All New Englanders were glued to our television sets as the perpetrators were caught, but the city of Boston was still on edge. When the Red Sox returned from a road trip on the 20th, a tribute to the fallen and the heroes who put their own lives in harm’s way to protect the wounded, was capped off by a stirring, inspirational, heartfelt speech from Number 34, who had recently become an American citizen:
The Sox went on to win the series that year, their third in ten years. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be this year, and Red Sox fans are deprived of seeing our hero cap off his career with ring #4. But we’ve still got plenty of wonderful memories, and hope to have more in five years, when Big Papi is eligible for the Hall of Fame. He’ll be the first DH elected to the Hall, and if he doesn’t get in the Fenway Faithful will rise up in revolt! That’s how we roll in Beantown!
David Ortiz isn’t just a baseball icon around these parts. He’s heavily involved in charities, like The Jimmy Fund, the team’s pet charity that helps fund pediatric cancer patients at Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and his David Ortiz Foundation gives aid to sick children across New England and his home in the Dominican Republic. Ortiz won’t be taking the field next season, and baseball in Boston won’t be the same, but his charitable work will continue. Thanks for helping break The Curse, for your clubhouse leadership, your philanthropy, and for giving me a night I’ll never forget. Enjoy your retirement, Big Papi… you’ve more than earned it!!