Big Papi: An Ode To The Man Who Changed A Nation

“Why can’t they just win?” I asked my dad.

I quietly walked up to my room. I was a loud kid back in the day–I still am but I used to be, too–but the moment was too much for words. Not just for me, but for everybody.

I was well into my seventh year of existence on the night of October 18, 2003. Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series. Red Sox-Yankees: a rivalry that could rival Coke-Pepsi and Bloods-Crips. I grew up as the son of a Red Sox lifer, and our favorite guys were one win away from heading to the World Series for the first time since 1986, which midas whale have been in the damn Stone Ages for a mere 2nd grader. They had a shot at glory for the first time in 85 long years.

For a young kid, I consider it impressive that still I understood how huge the stakes were.

But still, I didn’t quite get it.

Babe Ruth was a myth to me, a guy I had only been told stories about. I had only heard of Johnny Pesky once or twice by chance and wouldn’t know that he “held” the ball back in ’46 (he didn’t; nothing he could’ve done on that play to stop a run from scoring). I probably though Bucky Dent wasn’t a real person; I can see it now: “He has a funny name! He’s not real!” Bill Buckner was my next door neighbor or a teacher a couple grades ahead of me for all I knew.

My formitive years were spent idolizing the game of baseball and the guys who wore a Red Sox uniform. I was invested as any little kid could be: I could name the players, from the All-Stars to the bench players. I had the “Cowboy Up” towel. I went to Game 5 of that same series, and after the Sox fell down 3-0 early early, I screamed “WE WILL NOT BE SILENCED” at the top of my lungs and got a rally going in the crowd. Manny Ramirez hit a ding soon after that; I still believe I indirectly made that happen.

I was all in with the Boston Red Sox.

And it only took them seven years to break my heart.

You know what happened. You know it, we know it, everybody knows it. Pedro implodes, Grady keeps him, Boone hits a knuckleball that didn’t quite knucle. Yankees win.

It was the status quo for Sox fans at the time.

As I rested my head that night, I asked my dad, “Why can’t they just win?”

He didn’t have an answer for me.

I had school the next day, too. Insult to injury like you read about.

Funny enough, one of the guys who hit a home run that night was David Ortiz. Top of the eighth off David Wells; David-on-David crime. His second homer of the series was a clutch one, making it 5-2 at the time.

Ortiz was somewhat of a surprise for the Red Sox that year. The former Minnesota Twin was signed in the offseason on sort of a whim after fellow Dominican Pedro Martinez persuaded the Red Sox’s front office to take a flyer on him. One-year contract to be the designated hitter, nothing too serious.

But from the get-go, he was lighting it up. 31 homers and 101 RBIs and a fifth place MVP finish during his first year in Boston proved it wasn’t a bad idea after all. He gelled with the likes of Pedro, Manny Ramirez, Jason Varitek, and Kevin Millar right away. Millar called him “The Big Cat” with his huge smile.

He was an intrical part of a high octane offense that was one game away from an AL pennant, so he stuck around.

That offense was alright in the next year, too.

I couldn’t figure out how the hell to save that Dynasty Mode file.

I asked my dad, no idea. I asked my mom, she didn’t know how to even turn the Play Station 2 on, never mind how to save a file from MVP Baseball 2004.

I got my hands on the gem made by EA Sports during the offseason after the Game 7 loss, and I was hooked to the game and the 25 guys who were a part of the Red Sox. I wanted to take them all the way to a World Series championship–a feat only achevable in video games, seemingly–and that task started in Baltimore at (virtual) Camden Yards.

I won all three games, not to brag, and then I would call it a day and shut the PS2 down.

But, again, I didn’t know how to save the file.

So there I was, dumbfounded as to how to progress farther than the first Orioles series. I kept playing it, and playing it, and playing it without any further progression. I was trying different lineups for the hell of it because I thought, “Well, this is what the 2004 season will be: dozens and dozens and dozens of games way down in the hole of Bal’more.”

I finally did figure out how to save it, but not before I grew closer to that roster. I knew all of their strengths and weaknesses, and David Ortiz was my hottest bat. Couldn’t run for shite, but could hit any low breaking back halfway to Siberia.

I was even more invested in that 2004 team than the 2003 team. I think MVP and an extra year’s worth of growth helped, but the team just felt fun from the beginning. I know that’s cliché, but it was true. They were sluggish out of the gates, playing .500 baseball for the first dew months, but it was guys like Ortiz who began to turn the tide. They were outstanding in that second half, and were smoking hot heading into October.

They went back to Fenway with a 2-0 lead over the Angels in the ALDS. Red Sox Nation was confident, but were horrified when Vlad Guerrero hit a grand slam to tie the game in the seventh. They had seen this all before; it was only a matter of time before they lost this game and then two others.

It was the status quo for Sox fans at the time.

But in the bottom of the 10th, David Ortiz delivered.

It set up a rematch with those damn Yankees. And, of course, the Red Sox fell down 3-0 in the series. The Sox were screwed. Big Brother had us in a choke hold. Maybe 2005 was gonna be the year.

It was the status quo for Sox fans at the time.

But in the Game 4, David Ortiz delivered.

(Word to Millar, Dave Roberts, and Bill Mueller)

They were alive. Down, but not out. But then the same thing happened in Game 5. The Yankees looked like they were on their way to clinching another American League title against us.

It was the status quo for Sox fans at the time.

But then again, David Ortiz delivered.

They went to New York and won Game 6. It was a goddamn miracle that they even made it a seven game series. But playing the dreaded Yankees, in the Bronx, in a do-or-die game didn’t work out the previous year, so why would it this year?

It was the status quo for Sox fans at the time.

But then again, David Ortiz delivered.

They won the AL.

And then they won the World Series.

And, thankfully, there was no memory card issues to worry about.

Look, there’s nothing I can say about that 2004 team as a whole that hasn’t been said before. Four Nights in October and the World Series Film have that covered. I love that team like I would love a child, but we all know about the magic that occured 12 years ago.

Point is: for 86 years, the Red Sox had this stigma, this wicked way of life, this status quo of losing. Nothing going their way. Waiting ’til next year, knowing in the back of your mind that there was a huge chance that next year was never gonna come.

David Ortiz changed that status quo.

We wouldn’t be a fan base spoiled with three World Series banners in a little over a decade if it wasn’t for David Ortiz.

We wouldn’t have memories like this…

or this…

or this…

or this…

or this…

or this…

and seemingly countless others with anyone else.

The clutchest hitter in baseball history changed what the Red Sox are all about. What was once a sorry, “why always us?” franchise has become a team that doesn’t hope for a deep playoff run, but expects one. The David Ortiz era is not one riddled with heartbreak and questions of what could have been, but rather moments that saw those hopes of glory come to fruition.

No one else could’ve done that, and you’re fooling yourself if you think otherwise.

One man changed the status quo of an entire organization.

David Ortiz spoiled us. Without him, the Red Sox kinda feel like just another baseball team. Obviously our future is bright, with Benny Baseball and Moncada and Devers and the likes all waiting or ready to fully join an already star-studded crop of young guys like Mookie and Xander and JBJ.

But Ortiz leaving leaves a lot to be desired.

Don Orsillo, in the midst of one of Ortiz’s many walk off home run balls being in flight, asked, “How many times can you go to the well?”

We went more times than we could’ve ever dreamed of. That well gave us three rings and a lifetime worth of memories. We were going to the well this year plenty of times, too. .315 for 38 ding dongs and 127 hours RBIs? I should be surprised, but this man has done the impossible before; why stop in his last rodeo? Now, that said well is all dried up after being swept in three straight games in the ALDS. It’s, all of a sudden, gone.

Ortiz was the one guy who was there when were were a fan base asking “What if we win finally win a title?” and when we’ve been asking “How many titles can this team win in the near future?” That could’ve never happened before him! We could be riding a drought of 98 years and counting if he never joined us. He’s seen both sides of this club because he’s the one who brought the change.

But Ortiz was more than just that clutch hitter. He was the heart of this city.

Yeah, he was a pain in the ass every now and again. Complaining about his contract, crying about balls and strikes, hitting telephones, all that jazz.

But all those outburts and episodes came from a deep fire within. Big Papi played the game with a passion that can only be matched by a handful of guysand matched by none. He was focused and committed to the teams that won close to 100 games and the teams that lost close to 100 games. He never game up on the Red Sox’s mission every single year, and was oftentimes the guy who led that charge. His loyalty to Boston never truly faded, and that was demonstrated by his charity. The man has a huge smile but an even bigger heart; he’s given to local charities like the Jimmy Fund ever since he stepped foot in Boston.

And of course, that heart was displayed in 2013.

The man changed and lifted a team and a city.

And for that, I and millions of other Red Sox fans are eternally grateful.

Thank you. Thanks for the memories, for your effort, for everything. Thank you for changing the status quo and giving it your all while doing so.

Thanks, Papi.