In 2003 the Boston Red Sox introduced a new player. In 2016, some 13 years and 483 home runs later, David Ortiz marked his final game in Boston with a bittersweet farewell as more than 20,000 fans cheered, clapped, and cried. Now this fan is left with one question: what do you say to someone like that?
Every sports fan has their player, the one person they hold in high esteem always, through highs and lows and everything in between. For me, that player has long been Big Papi. I can't tell you when my admiration of David Ortiz began, though it was no doubt after 2003. I can just tell you that following his career has been a delight.
I was drawn in by his infectious grin that seemed to imply that behind his mastery of blasting baseballs into the bleachers was a guy with a playful heart, something he demonstrated during his many visits to children's hospitals as part of his work with his own charity, the David Ortiz Children's Fund.
What kept me following along was not only his prowess at bat but also his genuine nature and pure love of the game. It helped that he was instrumental in Boston breaking the longtime Curse of the Bambino in 2004 with their first World Series win since 1918. Winning again in 2007 was even better, and 2013 was the icing on the cake.
Like so many scores of fans, I loved watching Ortiz come up to bat. I loved the intensity in his eyes, his telltale stance, and the way we all knew it was a homer just by the crack of the ball on the bat. I loved that each homer was followed by his signature sky point, and I loved that he took ownership of his team and the city it's named for.
Once, many years ago, I had the privilege of sitting in the official Fenway Park Press Box for a game. Though assigned a seat in the back, a fellow journalist friend offered me the empty seat alongside him right up front, yes, in “those” windows. Trust me when I tell you that view of the park is unlike any other.
During that game I sat next to the official scorekeeper of the Sox, whose name I sadly can't recall. The conversation, however, remains with me for it cemented what I surmised to be true. “Manny Ramirez is a diva; Johnny Damon is a media dream; and David Ortiz is one of the nicest, best people you'll ever meet.”
I am grateful for that, and for so many memories throughout his baker's dozen years with my beloved Sox, and I will remember. I will remember the joy on Ortiz's face as he donned swim goggles when the victory champagne began to spray. I will remember homers hit for kids who needed it far more than the team did. I will remember how, either in spite of or because of an unabashed f-bomb, Big Papi rallied a city recovering from an horrific tragedy, epitomizing the phrase “Boston Strong.” I will remember the raising of a cap one last time, and I will remember that grin.
Big Papi will always be the best of baseball, and for that I am a forever fan.
What else can I say except thank you.