I was raised on David Ortiz.
I’ve been around for 21 years, and David Ortiz has been a significant part of 13 of those. I am almost numb to the knowledge that his career is over, and the reason for that is obvious: I literally have never known a Red Sox team without him on it. I don’t know what that will look and feel like.
One of my oldest sports-related memories is staying awake for Game 5 against the Yankees in 2004 (I’m unsure if I’ll ever forgive my parents for making me go to sleep before the Dave Roberts steal the night before). Papi walked that one off with a single in the bottom of the 14th. One of my favorite Fenway experiences was attending a game on my birthday the following year, June 2, 2005. I was 10, and the Sox played the Orioles and trailed in the ninth. Ortiz hit a walkoff bomb. He hit it for me, I surmised.
A picture of Papi delivering his speech in April of 2013 after the Boston Marathon continues to adorn my computer’s background. He spoke for millions of people that day, and not a single one took issue with it. I was there when he clubbed a pair of homers off of David Price in the 2013 playoffs and admired the second one as it hooked around the Pesky pole, angering Price in the process. His heroics against Detroit and St. Louis in those playoffs carried the team and city to another title. The legacy left by Papi’s performance in 2013 alone could practically merit its own blockbuster movie.
Of course, everyone knows all this by now. We know the numbers and greatness and wins. It almost belittles David Ortiz to consider his career and legacy in purely baseball terms. What is perhaps the most remarkable thing about David Ortiz’s career is the longevity of his performance. I had trouble remembering Ortiz-specific moments in many of his seasons with the Red Sox because there are simply too many. There are hundreds of home runs and runs batted in and hilarious dugout interactions with teammates that blend together.
That is the extraordinary part of David Ortiz: he was always there. Always hitting homers.
As fans, we use sports to make memories and build internal associations. We harken back to a walkoff win because of the excitement it provides but also because it reminds us of what was happening in life at the time. I got let out of school early because I had tickets to the game, and they won!
I vividly remember the day of Game 4 against the Yankees in 2004, going to get ice cream with my dad. We were completely resigned to the fate of the team, but just didn’t want to get swept. Just win one, for pride’s sake. They got that one win, and seven more after that. I remember the way my mom peered at the TV from behind a wall, hardly able to watch Game 4 of the World Series a week later. I remember walking out of my dorm room and pacing the hallway, delirious and in disbelief, after Papi’s grand slam off of Benoit in 2013.
For me, and many other young Bostonians, David Ortiz represents a lifetime of those associations, a mainstay in the middle of the Red Sox lineup through so many stages of personal growth. He is the embodiment of a team and sport that have been monumentally important to me for as long as I can remember. And he was always the most important.
Ortiz was there when I got braces in seventh grade, there when I started high school in 2009. He was there as I went away to college and stayed when I transferred schools. And now, as I sit here a senior in college, searching for jobs and career opportunities beyond next May, Ortiz is gone. The end of his baseball career coincides with the end of my academic one. It is personally, in more ways than one, the end of an era.
The eulogizing of Ortiz’s career has already started and will continue for months to come. We will celebrate his numbers, the records he broke, and his place in the history of Boston sports. Ortiz will be heralded as the most important Red Sox of all time, the one constant through three championships and almost a decade and a half of great baseball.
All of that is wonderful and accurate, and his baseball value to the Red Sox is immense. But there’s a personal element to it that may be even more powerful. In the truest sense, Ortiz has almost always been a fundamental part of my life, 162 days a year.
So, David Ortiz, I am massively thankful for the wins, the parades, the records, and the homers. Thanks for the memories. And most importantly, thanks for being there for me to grow up with.
Photo by Winslow Towson/USA Today Sports Images