The air felt different at Fenway Park. Maybe it was because this was playoff baseball, a crucial elimination game. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but the mood was off. It wasn’t the typical Boston rough crowd. The jeers and obscenities were at a minimum on Yawkey Way. The Fenway faithful certainly weren’t quiet, but they were reserved as if they knew something was coming, they knew David Ortiz’s career was coming to a close.
Ortiz’s introduction was the best precursor a fan had for the reception he would get for the rest of the game. Every Sox player, manager, coach and trainer received a hearty, cordial applause; besides Big Papi. The PA address took their time while bellowing his name, and the fans used this time to shower Ortiz with their love. You would’ve thought it was the final act of a concert, but alas it was Papi’s first act of his final stand.
Ortiz entered the postseason coming off one of his best regular seasons ever. Yet, the expectations for him in the elimination game seemed quite subdued. The some 37,000 in attendance were ecstatic just to see Big Papi get out of the dugout (more on this later). His first walk was met with an eruption of cheers and applause, every baseball fan knew Ortiz was nearly ineffective as a base runner, yet no one seemed to care. Ortiz’s next at bat resulted in a harmless ground out to former Red Sox player Mike Napoli. During the at bat, the fans were again on their feet chanting for Ortiz, treating it as if it were a two out situation in the bottom of the night. And even as Big Papi trotted back to the dugout after hitting into a shift he’s hit into hundreds of times before, fans were still heard expressing their love, offering Ortiz with overwhelmingly desperate sounding affirmations of their feelings for number thirty-four. Ortiz’s biggest contribution to the game came in the form of a one RBI sacrifice fly. The stands of Fenway erupted. No one cared that the Sox were still down, facing elimination. No one cared that the run support was finally sputtering. And no one cared that the bullpen was a less than ideal scenario. The people cared about Big Papi. Around this at bat was when the spoken word began to travel that we may all have witnessed David Ortiz’s final RBI. No one said it too loud, as if they didn’t want to believe it or upset anyone, but reality had begun to sink in. Big Papi’s final at bat at Fenway Park and in all of Major League Baseball was a walk. Ortiz looked at four crappy pitches and his career was over. Marco Hernandez replaced Ortiz as a pinch runner, yet David refused to leave the field quickly. As he took his gear off he gave Hernandez a very emotionally charged pep talk, all while battling over the volume of the Fenway faithful cheering their legend off the field. Ortiz took his place in the dugout but his presence was greater than ever, as the Jumbotron and other park cameras and displays showed Ortiz hyping up his teammates and electrifying the crowd. For the first time in the game, it felt like the action on the field was of great importance. The game had a whole new energy to it, there was something greater to be playing for.
The game was lost. The season was over. David Ortiz’s iconic career, over. The Indians had begun to celebrate on the field. The Red Sox had already retreated to the home dugout. Fans began to slowly file out of the ballpark as if it were a regular game. However, at some point people began to realize that this game was not regular. Not only was it the end of the season, it was the end of the best Red Sox career of the 21st century. Fans rediscovered their seats to witness history, to watch the finale of Big Papi’s performance. After ten long minutes of waiting, and multiple chants of “WE WANT PAPI” and “WE’RE NOT LEAVING”, a large figure clad in red arose from the home dugout. Those inside the ballpark were overwhelmed with joy and sadness. Screams became white noise, and it seemed as if the majority of people were at a loss for words. A sea of cameras followed him as he walked to the mound, fiddling with his hat nervously. The PA sounded out emotional yet triumphant music, fitting for the departure of a living legend. David Ortiz stood atop the mound, cap raised in hand and slowly turned to each section of the ballpark, saluting each and every fan. Ortiz was a godlike figure in the field, a true sense of power resided within this man whether he knew it or not. At times he could take this city by the throat, and move its emotions at his own will. On October 10th, 2016, he decided to choke the Fenway Faithful speechless, for there were no words to chant or justify what we had all seen. Grown men crying, attempting to neaten themselves up so their sons or daughters wouldn’t see them emotional. Boyfriends explained to girlfriends why it was important they waited ten minutes for that and why Ortiz was important. And I explained to my little brother, why I was getting ready eyes and why that was the single greatest sports moment I have ever been a part of.
Thank You David Ortiz.
by Matt Oteri