Farewell, David Ortiz, and Thank You

By Joshua Greenberg – Last Word On Baseball

Two problems arise when one attempts to tell a story of greatness: finding the right way to begin, and finding a way to deal with the ending. Begin with the beginning and end with the ending, some might say. Sounds simple, sure. But what if the beginning leads to the wrong story? And once one reaches the end, it’s truly over. No more chapters will be written, no more milestones reached, no more moments etched into the memories of the few lucky witnesses. That realization can be devastating in its finality.

Farewell, David Ortiz

David Ortiz, the longtime designated hitter of the Boston Red Sox, played today in the final regular season game of his illustrious career. After thirteen seasons of spectacular moments, David will soon walk out of Fenway Park for the final time as a player. Sure, the playoffs will delay that for a time, but eventually, the day will come when Ortiz’s huge, infectious smile won’t be seen in the home dugout. It’s hard to deal with that ending.

A Man of the People

Beginning his story is complicated. The first days of his career leads down the wrong path. His rise from Seattle Mariners and Minnesota Twins castoff to future Hall of Famer has been well documented. Countless pages have lent word to his stats and feats; countless more will do so before the end. Another column dedicated to that endeavor would mean little.

The truth is, his numbers don’t tell the right story. While they certainly helped him achieve his fame, the stats don’t make David Ortiz who he is. His batting average doesn’t tell you about the man who lives for his fans. Ortiz, more than anything, is a man of the people, and the people love him for that. His OPS says nothing of the adoration felt for him in the Dominican Republic, his home country. And his home run total doesn’t tell you about the work he does for children. They reveal nothing about a man who, just this season, befriended a little boy with a heart defect. Ortiz promised to hit a home run for his biggest little fan and, as always, Big Papi delivered. From that moment, Maverick became a sort of mascot for the team. But it was never about Ortiz. It was about Maverick. Ortiz would say the same.

A Performer for the Ages

They say a player needs a certain attitude to succeed in Boston. Nowhere in sports is the pressure to win greater, and Boston fans are intolerant of players who shrink from the toughest moments. David Ortiz never had that problem. Big Papi was built for the biggest of stages. When the pressure was on, when things got tough, nobody wanted to be at the plate more than Ortiz. Watching him perform in those moments almost escapes description. He would seem to grow, and as he stared down the unfortunate soul on the pitchers mound, everyone watching somehow knew something special was coming.

In 2004, when he brought the Red Sox back from the brink of elimination at the hands of the arch-rival New York Yankees, there was a feeling that came over everyone watching his at-bats. You just knew he wasn’t ready to lay down, and neither would he allow that of his team. The sheer force of David’s will radiated outward, across the stands and through TV screens. That force brought the Red Sox their first World Series championship since 1918. Two other titles and many such moments followed, as Ortiz built his reputation as the greatest clutch hitter in franchise history.

Heart and Soul

Ortiz’s affinity for clutch hits won him the fans, but it isn’t what separates him from other great hitters, and they aren’t what baseball will miss most when he’s gone. Great hitters, while certainly not a dime a dozen, simply don’t earn the love and respect that Ortiz has from an entire city. His performances made him great, but it is the way he embraced the city of Boston that makes him truly iconic.

His famous speech to the fans at Fenway following the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing tells it all. The people of Boston were reeling and needed someone to lift them up. As he always does, Ortiz rose to the moment. That day, he announced to the world that nobody gets to mess with Boston, and he spent an entire season proving that. Not only did he hit at a historic level en route to winning MVP of the World Series, but, in a moment when it seemed like the Red Sox might falter against the St. Louis Cardinals, Ortiz’s will took over yet again. He delivered another speech, this time to his teammates in the dugout. He reminded them of who they were and what they were playing for. And that was all it took.

That personality and willpower are why he’ll be so missed not just in Boston, but across baseball. No other player in the league has his presence. Nobody else can take over a game like he can. And nobody else can do it all while still reaching fans on the level he does. “Big Papi” isn’t a nickname; its his title, and it says everything about the place he holds in the hearts of fans.

David’s bat changed the game. It changed the way people viewed the designated hitter. It changed the course of a franchise. Baseball will feel very different when he’s gone, and there will never be another quite like him. He is more than just a great player. He stands a legend.

The End of an Era

One could spend pages waxing poetic over all his accomplishments. But that would be an ill-fitting tribute. For all the numbers and storybook moments, in the end, David is a guy who loves baseball and has fun playing it. A blue-collar superstar, if there ever was one. We’ve seen plenty of evidence supporting that this season, as Ortiz put together the greatest season a 40-year-old hitter ever had and had a blast while doing so. Another World Series ring could be in the future for Boston’s most beloved athlete. It would certainly feel right. Yet even if the Red Sox don’t win this year’s championship, Ortiz will end his career the way he began it. He is, was, and always will be, in his own words, “a bad mother******”.

Perhaps fans can take a lesson from that. Perhaps the way to deal with the end of this story is to understand that while it must end, it will never leave us. Ortiz leaves a lasting impression, after all. We should be grateful that the story lasted as long as it did, and that it was spectacular right up to the end.

For all the memories, for all the moments, and for sticking with us as long as you did, there remains only one thing to say: Thank you, David.

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