Yesterday’s announcement that David Ortiz has been elected to Baseball’s Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility served as a gentle reminder of how utterly and almost unfathomably amazing he made our lives as Red Sox fans. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: during his time in Boston he did more to improve my happiness and well-being than any elected official, ever.
Before he arrived at our doorstep (thanks to Pedro Martinez, who dropped history’s most impactful employment reference), winning a World Series seemed the stuff of fiction. We were a cursed franchise. That was our goddam brand. Good enough to get close, but incapable of swigging that final gulp of champagne. Then Papi showed up, said “fuck this” and proceeded to show us what it’s like to have a Baseball Deity on your team.
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 pulled our asses from the fire, but his propensity for doing it on the big stage will likely remain unrivaled. 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 this clip? 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 retroactively name this clip Best Picture of 2013.
But all that excellence that Ortiz spearheaded during his time with us impacted me on a level far beyond baseball. 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. Christ, at that point I figured my young ass would never live to see it either.
But then, game four happened. And then game five. And 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 the 2004 playoffs, ever since the pomp and circumstance of 2007 and especially 2013 and everything in between, we knew that David Ortiz was something special. And the fact that the World’s Mightiest Mortal is about to be immortalized in Cooperstown is unspeakably awesome. His career was the stuff of legend and we should all feel exceptionally fortunate to have experienced it.
I know I do.