David Ortiz

When All You’ve Known Is Gone

That series was rough.

It’s tough to put into words how frustrating it was to watch those three games, especially when it turns out that Joe Kelly was probably the best pitcher the Red Sox rolled out there. That’s nice for Kelly, but it’s not all that comforting to anyone else. Aside from he and Hanley Ramirez, you really can’t pull a good all-around performance out of the postseason. Hell, they couldn’t even get the lucky bounces or redirects.

A good thing to think about is that at least the ALDS wasn’t lost because a guy with a penchant for choking satisfied himself by coughing up a lead to Torii Hunter and the Angels. Or because the same guy couldn’t strike out Robert Andino. This isn’t the worst loss the Red Sox have suffered recently, and while that isn’t particularly comforting, it’s the truth. If we focus on the game alone, it wasn’t so bad compared to other, more gut-wrenching things.

Thing is, we weren’t going to focus just on the game. Because it was David Ortiz’s last game. They couldn’t lose. Just when we thought he’d get a shot at staying around a few innings more, Cody Allen thought better of it, and threw him four straight balls. His career ended on a walk, 90 feet to first, and after he got there, in true Big Papi fashion, he started pumping up the crowd like he just went endzone-to-endzone in Gillette Stadium.

But we already know how this story ends. Sox fail to comeback, Cleveland wins, and the whirlwind that was the Red Sox’s 2016 season ends. People stayed. At that point, losing the game felt like nothing compared to losing David Ortiz. They wanted him back out there, to send their thanks one last time.

He came back.

He raised his cap.

And then he was gone.

That’s it, really. He won’t ever see a pitch in the majors again. To his credit, he went out with one of the best seasons an old-timer like him has ever had. Ortiz hit for more power than he had in over a decade. He cranked out 38 homers, the most he’s had since launching 54 in 2006. His OPS crossed the 1.000-point threshold, the fourth time he’s done it in a full season of work, and the first since 2007. He was so good from 2004 to 2007 that, if you go by TAv, this season was only his fifth-best season with his.317 mark. The man forced you to throw aging curves out the window and appreciate what old man strength can do.

It’ll be tough for me to accept this, even after he’s gone. David Ortiz has been around since I really started watching and appreciating the Boston Red Sox. He’s been the one true pillar, the one familiar thing from all those Red Sox teams.

I started getting into the Red Sox around the turn of the century. It’s hard to remember any moments that really stuck with me then, but I’ll remember snippets of things that happened before, like Pedro Martinez torching the NL team in the ’99 All-Star Game, and the occasional Mo Vaughn homer. Things get kind of blurry up until 2003, when I had to ask my dad who this guy was because I had never heard of him. He wasn’t Alex Rodriguez or Ken Griffey Jr., but he sure could hit like them.

Then, 2003 really cemented my fandom. The Red Sox were fun and good, and they were genuinely likable. There hadn’t been that much hope since 1999, and I was warned to be cautious. The Red Sox could suck it all out of you in an instant, and 85 years hardens the heart. But I loved them all the same, with Manny Ramirez and Nomah and especially this Ortiz guy. You’re telling me he doesn’t have to play the field and worry about hard grounders bouncing into your face? All he gets paid to do is hit? Sign me the hell up. He found a cushy job and did it well, and my dad liked him, so I might as well.

Sometimes, I hate it when old people are right. Because they were with hope. Aaron Boone was the catalyst to that event, and as an 11-year-old watching the emotional twister that is the playoffs, all I could do was cry. I didn’t like crying, but I felt so strongly that this team with Ortiz and all those other fun guys, could end it. They couldn’t. Make it 86 years, and a lesson learned.

Then 2004 rolls around, and guess what? The Red Sox are good and fun again. The dude with the cushy hitting job is back and better than ever. The ALDS happens, and Ortiz punches one over the Monster to win it. Hope’s back. Oh no. The ALCS starts, and the Red Sox go down 0-3.

Game 4 comes along, and oh my god, the big guy did it. They won! They actually won! Sure, it probably didn’t mean much in the long run, but man that felt good. And to have Big Papi win it? Icing. That was fun. Then Game 5 happens, and me, being a precocious little 12-year-old, can’t watch all of the extra inning madness. But when I wake up, and ask if they won, I felt like I already knew the answer. And I already knew that David Ortiz was the one who did it.

They go on to win it all, as you all know. Ortiz becomes a superstar and an incredible person. Things change for the better. For the next several years, the phrase “Ortiz is going to bat this inning” – or any permutation of it – was synonymous with hope. Every time he came up in the seventh, eighth, or ninth innings, and the Red Sox were close, a comeback felt like it was imminent. He was the man responsible for that. David Ortiz gave us all that hope that the Red Sox could win any game. Plus, it helps that he hit roughly 500 walk-off hits in 2006, give or take a few.

To me, as long as he was in the lineup, the Sox had a chance no matter the deficit. The years following 2007 were a roller coaster. The slumps in 2009 and 2010 worried me, but if anyone could get through them, it was him. He got through it, but then 2012 was disappointing not just because of the ineptitude, but also because he wasn’t there the whole time. It felt empty and listless.

2013 comes around, and I felt like a kid again. Ortiz is doing what he did in 2004 all over again. In Game 2 of the ALCS, he’s up to bat, with the bases loaded, no less. Hope’s back. If there’s I know from watching the Red Sox all of these years, it’s that he can be the difference.

I still can’t properly explain to my roommates why I melted into the carpet after that, or why I made sounds that any normal person would be embarrassed to replicate.

Ortiz ends up being the MVP of the World Series and a champion for the third time. At this point, I considered that if  Cooperstown wasn’t making his bust now, they’d be some pretty lazy bums. Ortiz is a cultural icon for a city at this point, and somehow, that isn’t hyperbole.

When baseball’s in season, he doesn’t just represent Boston, he is Boston. He’s a stellar hitter and an even better person. He is the Red Sox, and has been to me ever since I thought he got that easy job where all he had to do was hit. That alone made this farewell so tough. Losing something that’s been around for roughly 60% of your life is never easy, especially one that’s been around as long as you’ve been involved in this whole crazy baseball thing.

Baseball has a way of wrenching your feelings around. Which is why that farewell was so tear-jerking. Not only was he always there, you wanted him to have one more postseason ride into that sunset. He shouldn’t have had to leave that early. He deserved more than that. But it would be selfish to try and make him stay. He had already done so much, and been there so long. At the very least, he brought hope back, and chased away that expect-to-be-disappointed mindset that had permeated the Red Sox fanbase for all those long years.

To me, it’s hard to put into words how much he meant. He’s the one thing I can remember clearly in each of those years that I’ve followed the Red Sox. I’d like to say something analytical and/or innovative, like I normally do on this site, but I can’t, and it’s much more difficult to explain emotional states than it is statistical trends. Coming to grips with something so meaningful being gone is tough, no matter who you hard. He was there, in that DH spot, every single game, with that trademark swagger as the personification of belief in the team. Even NL baseball was fun, because we got to see him pick it at first, and anything he did well made him even more endearing. Ortiz was the one guy that I could count on to be there every day.

My stomach’s still in a sunk position, and I have yet to truly believe he’s gone. I probably won’t until Spring Training rolls around and he’s not there taking batting practice with his son. But this too will pass. He’ll still be around, one way or the other. The Red Sox, in all likelihood, will be fine. They have a core of fun young players and more on the way. Baseball will come around again, and for the first time that I can truly remember, it’ll be without David Ortiz. Summer won’t be the same without him.

It was one hell of a ride, Papi. Thank you for everything. The sunset waits for you.

Photo by David Butler II/USA Today Sports Images

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