It’s okay to admit it. That for the last couple years, it’s been there.
In the back of your mind. In the deepest, darkest recesses of your heart. The thought that some day, David Ortiz would hang-up his massive cleats, relinquish the crown and scepter he was given as Almighty Lord of Baseball and disappear into the Alaskan wilderness, or at least a 25-acre spread in the toniest part of Weston.
Like the bill you don’t want to pay, the break-up note from your ex or the estranged uncle who shows up at your door (usually pantsless) after you won the lottery, you’ve ignored it. Thinking that if you didn’t pay it any mind, it would just go away. Because, god damn it, it’s frightening to imagine a world in which we can’t rely on that bat. In which the one Sure Thing in our line-up is gone. In which the role of “difference maker” falls to Pablo Sandoval?
For more than a decade, whenever hope seemed lost or we needed some kind of magic at the zero hour, David Ortiz has been the go-to guy with a capital G. I’ve honestly lost count of the many times he’s pulled our asses from the fire, but his propensity for doing it on the big stage is unrivaled in the franchise’s history. Down three games to none in the 2004 ALCS against the Yankees? Fine, here’s some walk-off magic. Detroit Tigers tryna go up 2 games to none on our asses in the 2013 ALCS? Not on my watch. Hell, if Grady Little didn’t screw up game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, Ortiz’s mammoth home run off David Wells would still be remembered as the final nail in New York’s coffin.
Perhaps more significant is what he’s done off the field, becoming a local guardian of all things right and proper with the world, a point accentuated by his now-classic post-Marathon bombing oration at Fenway Park, where he dropped the world’s most family-friendly F-bomb.
Seriously, is there ever a reason to stop watching it? Is there any shitty, wind chill on your neck, ice water in your boots day that can’t be somewhat saved by teleporting yourself back to the moment that Big Papi threw us all on his back and set this city’s collective nerves at ease?
I say no. So we must keep watching. And I would also respectfully suggest to any members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences who might read this that you say “f#$k all” to your rules and retroactively name this clip Best Picture of 2013.
Ortiz’s impeding retirement also affects me on another, far more personal level.
In the mid 90s, my dad was diagnosed was cancer. By the time the 2004 ALCS rolled around, that cancer was spreading, unimpeded. We knew there wasn’t a lot of time left, and watching the Sox piss away their chances in the first three games of the series just brought home the point that my old man would likely never realize his life goal of seeing his team win it all.
But then, game four happened. And then game five. And with every night, it seemed that Ortiz literally gave us a new lease on life. Despite the drugs and medication and despair and uncertainty, my dad was born again that October. It had been a long time since I saw him so animated, so excited, so goddam optimistic about things to come.
My Dad passed about a year and a half later. But one thing that eased the pain of losing him was knowing that the man who indoctrinated me into Red Sox fanhood, the man whose unyielding passion for his team still pumps freely through my veins, lived long enough to see them finally, finally go the distance.
Of course Ortiz wasn’t the only one pushing us across the finish line in that mad blur of playoff games. But take away his home run off Quantrill in the bottom of the 12th of game four, and who knows which way the dice fall? From that dinger, the Red Sox never looked back. And for that, I will be eternally grateful.
Ever since that night, ever since the pomp and circumstance of 2007 and 2013 and everything in between, I knew this day would come. The end of Ortiz’s career is the end of something unspeakably awesome. I’m just exceptionally fortunate to have experienced it.