By Rich Mancuso
There was David Ortiz at Fenway Park Wednesday and getting ready for another ballgame with the Boston Red Sox. The city of Boston, fans at Fenway Park and all of baseball are saying goodbye to the player known as “Big Papi” and with Ortiz having a season that is not accustomed to a 40-year old, one has to wonder why call it a career after his final at bat in October.
And with the Red Sox thriving and contending to win the Al East, Ortiz has been a major reason why there is optimism about seeing more baseball deep into October.
The Detroit Tigers were at Fenway Wednesday. They know what Ortiz has done to them in the past, as do the many opposing pitchers and managers that have had to devise a strategy to get Ortiz out, But they have not been able to succeed as Ortiz, in his final year is not playing like a washed up veteran with 25 home runs, with an average of .328.
It is easy to understand why ortiz is having this success. Primarily used in the designated hitter role, there is less stress on the legs and more time to study the pitching. But Ortiz, who fits the bill more as a heavyweight in a boxing ring or a linebacker for the nearby Patriots, was meant to play the game of baseball.
“But my body says it is time to go,” he said in New York last week when the Red Sox opposed the division rival Yankees in the Bronx. “There is a time to say goodbye and now is the time.”
Wednesday afternoon and prior to the Red Sox-Tigers game, Ortiz was honored by latino baseball,com with the “2016 Player of the Year Award” on Dominican Republic Day at Fenway Park. That was one of many honors and tributes that Ortiz has received in this final season of his Hall of Fame career.
This latest award from Latinobaseball.com has been presented to Latino players the past 20 years and it was on Dominican Day at Fenway Park. Ortiz, a proud native of Santo Domingo is proud of his heritage and during his travels to visiting cities is seen around the community and heads the David Ortiz Children’s Fund, an organization that gives need in the community.
He said, “I’m happy with what I accomplished always thanking God for that and always thanking my people for their support not only in the Dominican Republic , New England for being a huge supporter of my career. Every day, every game motivates me, brings the best of me every day. I take a lot of pride out of that.”
The pride came from growing up as a poor kid and achieving success. He signed with Seattle for the unheard amount of $10,000 dollars, Now, Ortiz is a multi million dollar ballplayer who appreciated the daily grind. The message is simple and clear that baseball is a game of opportunity and the memories will live on when the final game is played.
“That’s why I’m so proud and happy to be who I am,” he says, “and to come from where I come from. I learned a lesson as a kid and 25 years later, I keep putting that lesson in play.”
With the media, Ortiz knows how to react. He is always one of the last to speak in the postgame clubhouse but his presence is always a spectacle. There are the brief comments about a play, or how the game went, and then there is David Ortiz the ballplayer who tells a story or two and analyzes a particular moment.
“That should have went the other way,” he says about a ball that did not bounce right that caused the Yankees to score a run last week in New York. “We are not playing our best and there is plenty of baseball to go. This is a tough game to play and plays will not always go your way.”
Nor will the streaks or home runs come all the time. But Ortiz is aware, as baseball people know, he is playing the game now like a youngster. And there are questions as to why David Ortiz is making this his final campaign in baseball.
“It’s all hard work man,” he said with a smile. “It’s all about believing in yourself. When you struggle your mind doesn’t rest because you want to find out why you’re struggling. Then when you’re doing well your mind is spinning on that.”
He said, those moments make him struggle. However, the baseball world knows that getting Ortiz off the bases has been a struggle. The slugging and on base percentages have not declined in this final year, and of course the Red Sox depend on his bat in their quest to overtake Baltimore in the Al east division race.
And like a good soldier, Ortiz will not admit defeat if the Red Sox fail to get another championship in his final year. This is the mark of a good ballplayer and one with a heart of gold off the field.
“I just have to keep on working,” he says. And with that, you wonder if this is indeed his last year.