Thank You, David
Everyone knew it was coming to an end, we just chose to not believe it. David Ortiz is wrapping up his final regular season in professional baseball. This past season was a whirlwind, highs and lows throughout the summer months. Aside from 2013, the Red Sox have been coming up short by a mile the last handful of years. But in David Ortiz’s swan song, they rose to the occasion. With an American League title in their hands, they move onto the postseason. While this worst to first turnaround may be a bit surprising, it shouldn’t be if you have watched Ortiz over the years. Even if you did not predict the Red Sox to be a title contender this season, you knew Ortiz would not go quietly into his retirement. He is not someone who goes about his business in a small way. The words are hard to articulate, the titles too difficult to rank and the memories too numerous to count on both hands, but here goes nothing.
We first met David Ortiz in the winter of 2003, when he was signed as a free agent. It was a rather pedestrian career for David with the Minnesota Twins, who released him outright after the 2002 season. The Twins loss was Boston’s gain, but even the Sox front office could not have predicted what was to come. Ortiz burst onto the scene in the second half of 2003, finishing with more than 30 home runs and 100 runs batted in. In a postseason that will forever live in infamy for Boston, Ortiz gave fans a preview of his heroics that would propel them to their first World Series in 86 years. It is almost as if his release from Minnesota gave Ortiz new life in the sport. In some cases, all you get is one shot to make your impression in the league. Ortiz had something to prove when he came to Boston, and so did the struggling Sox. They won the World Series, the first since 1918, on the back of David Ortiz. He hit .409, hit 5 home runs and drove in 23 runs in the playoffs and the Curse of the Bambino was in the rearview mirror. He followed up a championship season with 47 home runs in 2005, and then a career high 54 long balls in 2006. By the mid 2000s, Ortiz had claimed his spot among the leagues best hitters. If the Sox were in contention, Ortiz was in the thick of it. In 2007, another World Series title was brought back to Boston, with David leading the charge with a .370 postseason average. When the moment was big, he was even bigger. He seemingly rose to every occasion presented at him in the batters box. The only bump in the road for Ortiz came in 2008-2009, when he struggled with his health and his bat. It was a brief fall from his usual self, and some wondered how long it would be before he broke down completely. Just when it did not seem possible for him to regain his form, he proved us wrong again. He remained in the middle of the lineup for the next several years, all the way up through this season. He picked up a third title in his travels, one that has heavy emotional value attached to it. His statistics will always be there for reference, but it is the constant presence I will miss most.
The impact of David Ortiz goes far beyond the baseball field. He first came to Boston when I was 9 years old. Since then, the lineup and pitching rotation has been shuffled countless times. The one constant has been David Ortiz. In a sport where loyalty is found in the checks written by owners as opposed to being tied to the city, Ortiz was loyal. He was one of us. Of course it doesn't hurt that the Red Sox owners have big wallets, but he stuck around through it all. He grew as baseball player, a person and a leader right in front of our eyes. I grew up with David Ortiz, and he is the greatest baseball player I have ever seen. It is difficult in this day and age to become so infatuated with one player. Becoming attached isn't as common, because players move on every couple of years. Ortiz won his titles in 2004 and 2007. He is forever an icon here, even if he left for more money. David did not invent the designated hitter position, but he defined it. As pure of a hitter as you will ever see, he was never out of an at-bat. Even when teams figured out that he was a pull hitter, he found ways to get on base. Most of the time, his version of beating the shift was sending one into the bleachers. The home runs and clutch hits were incredible, and they changed the course of history for the Red Sox. The at-bats will be missed greatly, but so will the gap-toothed smile, the jokes with reporters, and even the commercials he starred in.
Baseball players are athletes who we love to hate and blame for big game meltdowns and losses (like we could do any better given the same situation). Seldom do baseball teams actually win, and David gave a city multiple wins. He took Boston to the top of the mountain in 2004 and 2007, and he showed us the light in 2013's darkest hour. He was someone who I looked up to, respected, and always expected the best out of. And he always delivered. A larger than life character in so many ways, it is hard to see Ortiz retire at the end of this playoff run. Plenty of teams have above average players on their roster, but only one got the experience of a lifetime with David Ortiz. It probably won't sink in completely until the season is over, but this is the end of a career we may not see for a long time. David Ortiz defined a city, a fan base, and a position during his monumental baseball career. The shoes will be filled next season at DH for the Boston Red Sox, and it won't be by number 34. No matter who it is who steps in, the shoes will always be just a bit too big. The next time we see 34, it will be in the right field section along with Jim Rice, Ted Williams, Pedro Martinez and Yaz. This is chapter 20 in the book of David Ortiz, and it is unfortunately the last. Even if he is 40 years old and can barely run due to his foot injuries, David has always proven that he can be "Big Papi" come playoff time. This book is just about over, but you can't close it until David has the final say.
Thank you David, for uniting a fan base and bringing home multiple World Series titles. Thank you for making young Boston fans believe in a legend and dream of playing at Fenway Park someday. Thank you for your work on and off the baseball diamond, as I am sure you will continue to be clutch with your charitable efforts throughout the city. Thank you for bringing that smile to the ballpark every day, even if things weren't looking good for the team or the city. Thank you for that sweet, sweet swing of yours. Thank you for carrying Red Sox nation on your back for the last 14 years. Your impact will stay in our minds forever.
To the Large Father,