Thursday, October 13, 2016

A Farewell to #34

Balls of All Sizes has been pretty quiet in the past 17 months but there are certain people who just deserved to be memorialized. David Ortiz is one.

Well... the Red Sox 2016 season came to a screeching halt on Monday after a horribly lackluster performance in the ALDS losing three straight to the Terry Francona-helmed Cleveland Indians and with it, the hallowed career of Mr. David Ortiz... Big Papi... #34. This loss was incredibly disappointing for a team that led the majors in runs per game, total runs, hits, doubles, RBI, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging, OPS and total bases. They had three players finish in the top 10 for batting average for crying out loud! But after winning 19 games in September (including an 11 game winning streak), they hobbled into the playoffs with silent bats and a pitching staff lacking confidence.

But this story isn't about the Red Sox failure to perform... this story is about a career so magical it was very nearly unbelievable. This story is about a guy who was released by the Minnesota Twins at the age of 27 and given a one-year contract with the Red Sox on the word of Pedro Martinez. This story is about a guy who went on to become the heart of Boston.

When Big Papi arrived in Boston for the 2003 season, the Sox had been relegated to 2nd place behind the powerhouse (and extremely annoying) New York Yankees for several seasons in the midst of winning three consecutive World Series. Painful with a capital P. And 2003 wasn't any less traumatic when Aaron Boone hit an ALCS Game 7 walk-off home run in the bottom of the 11th to send the Sox home. But it was only Ortiz's first season. Clearly, the best was still yet to come.

Who knows what happened during the winter of 2003-04 with Big Papi, but he was a greatly improved player in 2004. And we all know how that season ended... An amazing ALCS where the Sox finally got revenge on the Yankees by coming back from a 3-0 deficit for a trip to the World Series. Ortiz won the ALCS MVP after batting .387 with 3 home runs and 11 RBI. The Sox went on to sweep the St. Louis Cardinals and win their first World Series in 86 years. Goodbye, Curse and Hello Blessing... a blessing in the form of a Big Papi!

David Oritz went on to spend the next 14 seasons delighting Red Sox Nation. A 10-time All-Star, 6-time Silver Slugger winner, and the most important title of all, 3-time World Series Champion. I've been a Red Sox fan my whole life and I often wondered if they would ever win just ONE more World Series so THREE has been a dream come true. He hit 541 total home runs landing himself at #17 on the all-time list sandwiched between Mike Schmidt (548) and Mickey Mantle (536). Not too shabby.

In 2013, Ortiz unofficially took back the city of Boston after terrorists bombed the finish line of the Boston Marathon and not only inspired the community but sparked a team of bearded ballplayers to rally around their broken city and propel the team to their third World Series Championship. Why? Because this is our f#@*ing city!

And then on November 18, 2015, his 40th birthday, Big Papi announced his retirement. Sadness and disbelief settled on the Red Sox fandom. And we all wondered... has he lost his edge? Is he no longer confident in his ability to hit the ball as he once did? Or maybe he's just tired of the aches and pains associated with a twenty-year career...

Ortiz spent the 2016 MLB season on a farewell tour but also showed NO signs that he was a forty-year-old in his final season. He finished in the top 10 in batting average, bashed 38 home runs (the most by any player in his final season), led the majors with 48 doubles and tied for 1st in the American League with 127 RBI. So WHY ARE YOU LEAVING US BIG PAPI?? *sobs*

He was giving a hero's sendoff from every ballpark he visited in his final season with the pinnacle being his final game at Fenway Park. The city of Boston announced they would rename the Brookline Bridge the "Big Papi" David Ortiz Bridge... The Red Sox announced they would retire #34 at the beginning of the 2017 season... Maine native and 3rd base coach Brian Butterfield presented the entire Ortiz family with custom #34 LL Bean Boots... And he was basically offered any job in the Red Sox organization he wanted. A very emotional goodbye for everyone.

There's so much of Big Papi that I'll miss. His presence... big and bold and loud. His smile... bright and warm and welcoming. His heart... passionate and open and devoted. I'll miss his stride to the plate, the spit, the clap, the slow trot around the bases and the salute to his late mother as he crosses home plate. I'll miss that sparkle in his eye that told me he was just an all around great guy. I'll miss that energy he brought to the ballpark in every at bat. And I'll also miss that I probably missed any chance of getting a Big Papi hug... *sniff*

It was the ultimate walk-off. Good luck, Big Papi and thanks for the many memories. xoxo