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It’s really hard to believe the Red Sox retired David Ortiz’s number a year ago today. It’s even harder to believe he hasn’t played a game since 2016. It somehow feels like a million years, but also like it was just yesterday that we saw him step up to the plate and hit a home run.

I miss David Ortiz every day, and I’ve never even met him. I’ve met plenty of Red Sox players, current and former, but I’ve never met Papi. If you follow me on Twitter and/or Instagram (shameless plugs), I talk about him a lot. He’s my idol. My hero. I have a David Ortiz pillow on my bed (the best gift I’ve ever received), and his jersey hanging on the back of my bedroom door. When I have a bad day, I watch the 2004 or 2013 World Series movies, and his home runs cheer me up. Even though he’s around the team a lot, I don’t think I’ll ever get over him retiring. As early as 2015, I wrote on my semester abroad blog about not wanting him to retire. I dreaded it for years, and when it finally happened, it broke my heart in a way I didn’t know was possible.

I bought tickets to his retirement game in the late winter of last year, just in case I couldn’t use my mom’s season tickets. On June 23, 2017, sister and I put on our best Papi apparel and headed to the ballpark. As soon as the pregame ceremony started, so did our tears. I cried for about half an hour, watching his friends and teammates celebrate a man who is more beloved by his fans than any athlete in history. When he admitted to the crowd that he had sunglasses on because he was crying so much, I cried even harder.

It’s been really hard to accept that David Ortiz isn’t on the team anymore. He still calls it his team – which it is – and he still works for the Red Sox – thank God – but he’s retired. But anyone who grew up in the era of David Ortiz knows how I’m feeling; it was like watching your childhood end right before your eyes, and feeling that crushing sense of finality. David Ortiz isn’t coming back.

But I take comfort in knowing that the reason this still hurts is a good one: because David Ortiz means so much more to Boston than his home runs and clutch hits. He was the face of Boston. Our mascot. Our team leader. Our hero. Our beacon of hope in our darkest time. He’s still all of those things. And in being more than just one of the greatest ballplayers ever, David Ortiz is truly forever.¬†As he likes to say, “retired, not expired.”

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