David Ortiz is a Hall of Famer.
What a strange joy it is to say. Strange, because it feels like he was just up to bat, smashing a ball, and rounding the bases. Joy, because, well, it’s David Ortiz.
In the years, months, and days leading up to the election results, and the hours since, much of Ortiz’s career has been discussed. His ten All-Star Games, seven Silver Slugger Awards, Home Run Derby champion, ALCS MVP, World Series MVP, three rings. His jersey number retired, announced before his playing days were done, the Red Sox so eager to honor the man who brought glory back to Fenway Park.
Before Ortiz, there hadn’t been a World Series championship in Boston since 1918. 86 years of heartache, washed away by an unexpected slugger and a team of self-proclaimed Idiots. 2004 was the historic comeback, never seen before, not replicated since. Ortiz was at the center, with back-to-back walk-offs in the ALCS to keep hopes alive.
David Ortiz taught so many of us how to hope and believe.
I was 11 when the Red Sox reversed the Curse. I knew it was meaningful, but I didn’t truly understand it. My mother went to work downtown the next day and came home to share that people on the trolley and around the city were walking around ‘in a daze,’ grown men and women wearing baseball caps and Red Sox shirts under their suit jackets. My great-uncle Lee, born in June 1918, had waited 86 years. He was, and remains, a living embodiment of how long Red Sox Nation waited. He has now lived through five championships.
Everyone talks about 2004, and with good reason. It was improbable, unbelievable, miraculous, historic, everything Boston dreamed of, right down to the utter destruction of the Yankees.
2007 was simply well done. A great team did a great job.
But 2013 has always held an extra-special corner of my heart. It’s hard to explain why, but here I am to attempt it.
If you aren’t from the region, it’s hard to put into words what 2013 meant. That statement isn’t meant to be exclusive, it’s a simple fact.
I grew up watching Marathon runners come flying down Beacon Street in Brookline.
On April 15, 2013, I was a 19-year-old college student and babysitter who took the sweet little girl I sat for to see the Marathon runners, blocks away from her home. My best friend since first grade was running it for the first time, but I couldn’t find him. We left, and headed into the suburbs to pick up the girl’s big sisters from gymnastics.
Driving with the little girl in her carseat in the backseat, the calls and texts began.
“Where are you?
“Are you safe?”
“Bombs going off at the Marathon finish line.”
Something broke within all of us that day.
Days later, we were on lockdown as various law enforcement agencies worked together, searching for the remaining terrorist. I grew up close enough to Fenway that if I opened my bedroom window, I could listen to the concerts they hosted. But that day, the entire city was silent. At one point, I looked out the window to see FBI agents on our street.
For me, and so many others, the 2013 Red Sox put our broken pieces back together.
They’d left for a road trip on Marathon Monday and had to postpone their Friday game due to the manhunt. It felt like a century, not four days, had passed when they finally played at Fenway again on Saturday, April 20.
On that day, Ortiz picked up a microphone instead of a bat, and used the strength of his words, not his swing.
“This is our fucking city.”
I’m pretty sure I blacked out when I heard those words.
It boils down to this: in 2004 and 2007, it was about baseball. In 2013, it was about Boston.
Boston was in everything the 2013 team did. It was in the ‘B Strong’ logo painted on the Green Monster and carved into the outfield. It was on the jerseys they wore, and the one hanging in the dugout, that would later be placed on the Marathon Finish Line, during the World Series Parade. It was in the way they honored the injured, the lost, the first responders, and the law enforcement.
The ‘Boston Strong’ motto became a rallying cry for every person in pain, who wanted to stop living in fear. Red Sox players spoke about how badly they wanted to uplift the city. Baseball was a distraction and a balm; it could never bring back what was taken, but it could give, in its own way.
In the postseason, Ortiz hit .353/.500/.706/1.206; in the World Series, an astronomical .688/.760/1.188/1.948. By Game 6, the St. Louis Cardinals pitchers gave up pitching to him altogether, and intentionally walked him three times. It backfired; his teammates drove him home to score twice.
That night, October 30, 2013, a season-long love letter to Boston was signed, sealed, and delivered. Koji Uehara made the final out at Fenway Park to cement the first championship clinched at home in almost a century. 2004 and 2007 had been won on the road. 2013 was won in Boston, for Boston.
Ortiz did not grow up here, nor did he begin his career here. But he’s just like Boston and its people: passionate, joyful, angry, warm, unexpected, loves Dunkin Donuts. He made his home here, so much so that days after the Sox won that championship, he came in third as a write-in candidate for the 2013 Boston Mayoral election.
Today, when you come to Boston, you can land at David Ortiz Gate in the JetBlue Terminal of Logan Airport, drive over David Ortiz Bridge in Kenmore Square, and walk down David Ortiz Drive, past the enormous glowing numbers of Red Sox legends, including his own 34. He is Boston, in every sense.
What Ortiz did for Boston in 2013 goes so far beyond baseball that I will never feel as though I have found enough words or the adequate words. There aren’t words big enough for Big Papi.
Thank you will have to suffice.