BOSTON — I was born in May 1997. David Ortiz made his major league debut only a few months later, on Sept. 2. My life and the Boston Red Sox slugger’s career have progressed simultaneously, and as his number was retired Friday night, it felt as though a piece of my life had ceased.
As I looked around me at Fenway Park, it appeared that other fans felt the same. When the 2004 World Series was mentioned, two fans high-fived giddily as though it was their own accomplishment.
Boston sports fans, and even Red Sox players, lived vicariously through Ortiz’s career. The retirement of his No. 34 jersey meant more to the city of Boston than just a number hanging on the wall that no one else can wear. The number “34” represents all that players strive to be, and all that fans pray that players can be. It embodies who we want to be as human beings.
Ortiz was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, 1,649 miles away from Fenway Park. He was not drafted, and not considered to be a guy on the rise. No one really even knew his name at the start of his career.
He was signed by the Seattle Mariners in 1992, but never played a game for them. In 1996, Ortiz was traded to the Minnesota Twins to complete a trade that sent Dave Hollins to the Mariners. Ortiz stayed in Minnesota for six seasons and batted.232. He played very little there, and the Twins didn’t appear to know what they were letting go when he was released in 2002.
In all fairness, I don’t think the Red Sox realized what they getting when they signed Ortiz in January 2003. During his 13-year career with the Red Sox, he brought Boston three World Series titles and enough clutch plays to last a lifetime.
About an hour before the game on Friday night, the Red Sox showed a long video Ortiz’s career highlights with the Red Sox. That big smile, and even bigger swing, shone on the screens at Fenway Park.
“All I Do Is Win” by DJ Khaled started the playlist of hype music that played behind the highlights video. While the lyrics were fitting of Ortiz’s career, what the highlights didn’t cover is what I consider the most important aspect of his career.
Ortiz wasn’t always spectacular. He didn’t always hit 54 home runs in a season. He struck out. He had slumps. He was released. But, the Ortiz that Boston loves persevered.
The failures never hurt his ego, which is the size of Boston. He would come back the next game to avenge his hitless games. He was the type of guy to be more angry with being intentionally walked than striking out.
Former teammate and friend, Pedro Martinez, who had his Non. 45 retired in 2015, spoke at the ceremony.
“I want to thank you on behalf of all the teammates that you had, all the former teammates, all the opposition, all the foundations that you visited, all the people of the Dominican Republic and Latin America, in the world. You are a great ambassador of the game,” said Martinez.
“We want to thank you for not the clutch hits or the 500 home runs. We want to thank you for how you made us feel, and it’s loved,” said former teammate and current Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. “You’re not our teammate, you’re not our friend, you’re our family.”
I often get asked why I watch sports. I’m a female sports journalism major who is not athletically gifted. Each time I get asked, I have scramble to find an answer. I never think about why I love sports, just like I never think about why I love my family.
I grew up with sports and, more specifically, the Red Sox and David Ortiz, the same as I grew up with my family. I rarely called David Ortiz, “Ortiz,” because to me, he’s “Big Papi.” He is part of my “family,” along with the rest of the Red Sox.
After Pedroia’s touching speech, the crowd started chanting “Papi” as the big guy stepped up to the microphone.
“Man, the little guy made me cry,” said Ortiz of Pedroia.
Ortiz thanked his wife, children, managers, agents, owners and teammates, and attributed his success to not himself, but those people who supported him.
“All those guys motivate me every day to do something special. All the way from the bat boy to John [Farrell], our manager. Those guys motivate me every day to do something special. Thank you very much,” said Ortiz.
Ortiz gave a special thanks to his late mother and his father. Ortiz’s daughter translated the thank you speech in Spanish to her grandfather.
“Finally, I want to thank you guys, the fans. There was going to be no way for me to take my performance to the highest level without the love and the support that you guys showed me every day,” said Ortiz. “I love you Boston. Thank you.”
Ortiz was presented the first pitch ball by former teammate Tim Wakefield. Ortiz’s arm was out of practice as he threw the pitch about a foot and a half outside of the strike zone. As he chuckled over his failure, the Dominican Republic flag descended from the top of the Green Monster.
“And now, let us conclude the ceremony rising as one and paying tribute to two nations who have become one together to bring such transformative happiness to their citizens through baseball and the heroism of their native son and adopted son, David Ortiz,” said Fenway Park announcer Henry Mahegan.
The Boston Children’s chorus sang the Dominican Republic national anthem, then “The Star Spangled Banner.” During both tributes to the respective countries, David Ortiz sang along. Greater than all the home runs he hit, he brought together two countries for the love of baseball.
The ceremony ended and the pregame preparations continued with business as usual. But as lifelong Red Sox fans, it didn’t feel usual. Although Hanley Ramirez did hit a home run Friday as the designated hitter against the Los Angeles Angels, the David Ortiz void was still felt.
Like the 10 other baseball players with the numbers retired by the Red Sox, David Ortiz will never be replaced. Big Papi, No. 34, will always be the designated hitter for the Boston Red Sox and his inspiration will live on in the memories of Red Sox fans.
Kassadi Moore of Sherman is a lifelong Boston Red Sox fan. She is a sophomore journalism student at Husson University in Bangor who is working as an intern this summer at the Bangor Daily News.