I’ve been attending and watching sporting events for almost my whole life. I’ve had almost every emotion possible. I’ve been at ease watching my team annihilate the opposition, dejected when my team stinks, shocked by heartbreaking losses, tense in close and meaningful games, and thrilled by exciting victories late. The one emotion I haven’t had before is being sad. I’ve been dejected, but I’ve never had a sense of true sadness while at a game in my life. That was, until last night at Fenway Park.
I waited until the first inning started to buy tickets, knowing that they would drop like a rock, and picked up seats for fairly cheap. After that, I went with my friend, another life long Sox fan, and off we went to the tense atmosphere of playoff baseball in Fenway Park. We knew the potential for the Red Sox to stage a stellar series comeback, given their history in the 2000’s. We also knew that if they lost, the last active player from our youths would retire and our childhood sport fandom would in essence be over.
Sure enough, the Red Sox found themselves down two in the bottom of the 8th inning with a runner on base, two out, and David Ortiz up to hit. Naturally, we felt pretty good about it. And then Cleveland pitched around him with an unintentional intentional walk. Hanley Ramirez singled in a run, and then Ortiz was taken out for a pinch runner. He left to upraorus applause and adulation. Unfortunately, he was denied a proper happy ending. The Red Sox failed to tie the game in the eighth and got two more runners on in the 9th and failed to score then. When the game ended, I had this crushed feeling of, “It’s over. The season, the chance for a championship, the fun times at the ballpark, but especially the career of a legend. It’s all gone.”
At that moment, I sat down in my seat and was the saddest I’ve ever been at any game I’ve ever gone to. I filled out my scorebook with what had happened, and looked around the ballpark. There were so many people standing in shock. They all knew, as I did, that we would never watch David Amèrico Ortiz Arias step to the batters box ever again for the Boston Red Sox. We didn’t want it to end. We stood and waited. We chanted at the top of our lungs: “We Want Papi!” And “Thank you Papi!” and best of all “We’re Not Leaving!”. We waited for what felt like an eternity.
And then a tall, looming figure stepped out of the Red Sox dugout and took the field. The Fenway Park sound guys played this music from The Natural, and every person there watched this legend as tears filled every eye in the yard. Surrounded by reporters, he looked around the park with tears in his eyes. He didn’t care about the people taking pictures a few feet away from them, he wasn’t there for them. He walked out to the pitchers mound to say thank you to the people in the stands. He tipped his cap to us, and we cheered and yelled “Thank you David!” until we just couldn’t speak or make anymore noise. We all knew what this man did for the Red Sox, the region, and ourselves. We could do nothing, but applaud the efforts and heart of this champion. And then he stepped off the mound and off the field, back through the dugout and into the clubhouse to remove his equipment for the final time.
I’ve been following the Red Sox since 2003, a diehard fan since 2005, and a Boston area resident since 2012. In that time, David Ortiz went from a mediocre left handed hitter to productive hitter on a record setting offense to postseason folk hero to legendary slugger worthy of record alongside the greatest to ever play the game. I grew up watching him play every single day for six months of my year every year from 2003 on. I was 8 when he took over the DH spot from Jeremy Giambi. I’m now 22 and I’m watching the last of my childhood baseball heroes walk away. And when David walked out and tipped his cap to us, I cried. I’ve never shed a tear at a game before. But that was the end of my childhood baseball fandom, and I was so sad to watch it end.
As I’ve explained before, David Ortiz is the most important Red Sox player ever. Not the best, but the most important. He took the Red Sox from being a team that would be just good enough to entertain and just bad enough to fail spectacularly in the biggest game of the season to being a champion. The 2004 World Series is the most important trophey in the history of all Boston sports without any hesitation. And David Ortiz was at the heart of it. When we cheered David, we were thanking him for his efforts on the field and his transformation of the organization we root for. He turned us into winners. And I mean that line quite literally.
Athletes can only do so much to directly impact our day to day lives. They play a game and entertain people. They aren’t doctors, nurses, firefighters, police officers, or anything that directly helps a city in that manner. Any impact that can be is up to the person watching the game and athlete in question. Athletes can inspire fans and make them realize their own potential. They see the exploits on the field and think: “If they can handle all this pressure of all these expectations and perform like that, then I can handle my issues and do it the way they do.”
Watching the Red Sox from 1919 to 2003 was to expect failure. You follow a team for so long and see so many failures while that guy (in this case the Yankees) gets every break and does so well, and it rubs off on your psyche. When David showed up and played with his swagger and championship mindset, he changed the Sox from fearing the big moment and the Yankees to wanting that pressure. That rubbed off on the fan base too. It rubbed off on me. I looked at Ortiz as an inspirational figure for my youth, looking to his triumphs for inspiration to deal with personal struggles and problems. He gave me the confidence to handle my issues with a championship swagger and attitude. I’ll always have him to personally thank for that. And me tipping my cap to him was my way of saying thank you. I’m sure I’m not the only person with that sense of gratitude or impact given by him.
Thank you David Ortiz, champion, hero, and Boston Red Sox legend. You’ve changed a city, a team, a fan base, and filled our lives with so much joy. One standing ovation from all of us Red Sox fans would not be enough to thank you for all that you’ve done. But it’s all we could give you last night. Thank you. We will miss you, and love what you gave us forever.