Last night the Boston Red Sox lost to the Cleveland Indians 4-3 to end their 2016 campaign. The loss also ended David Ortiz' career, as he had announced last year that the 2016 season would be his last.
It's strange because the Sox choked, and I should be upset about that; but I'm oddly not.
I'm in a reflective state, it's bizarre; I'm usually never like this with sports, I used to live and die with every game of all my favorite teams, but I guess maybe that's just growing up and having a little perspective? There's obviously a lot more to life than sports. Instead of being upset with how it ended, I'm happy it happened, and I'm even more happy that I was able to witness the greatness of David Ortiz on my favorite baseball team for the majority of my life.
But briefly about the team as a whole; let's be honest, they straight up didn't show up for this playoff series. It showed, as they were swept in 3 games. No starting pitcher gave you anything even remotely close to a quality start. An offense that lead all of baseball gave you 7 runs in 3 games, not exactly what you want in October. I mean obviously I didn't want it to end this soon and I'm a little sad its over; but I've been saying all year that I think team is very flawed. I think they greatly overachieved. I never bought into the World Series hype. I'm just happy they were competitive all season after two straight last place finished. I'm happy David Ortiz' career ended in the playoffs even though it didn't end the way we all would've liked. I called the Red Sox "fake good" all season. Seriously. Like all year.
Yet they rode being "fake good" all the way to 93 wins and an AL East crown. Of course we know baseball is a team game, you win and lose as a team. But this post isn't to talk about the 2016 Red Sox as a whole, this is for Big Papi.
David Ortiz has been the heart and soul of the Red Sox pretty much since he got here in 2003. I can't believe he's not going to be back in 2017. Although he started that first season as a back-up, by the end of '03 we all knew that Big Papi was a special, special hitter. As Red Sox fans, we all have Pedro Martinez to thank, as he was the one who told the Red Sox they should sign David Ortiz. Thank God they listened.
He bashed 31 HR and drove in 101 runs during his first year here and helped the Red Sox go all the way to game 7 of the ALCS against the New York Yankees. A game that they should've won, and many will remember that as a game where Grady Little kept Pedro Martinez in too long which led to the Red Sox blowing a 5-2 lead in the bottom of 8th, but it was David Ortiz who hit a HR in the top of the 8th to extend that lead for the Sox.
Should've clinched that series for the Sox, but we all know how that ended. Let's not focus on that.
It's weird to explain being a die-hard sports fan to someone who isn't. I'll be the first to admit none of it makes any sense. Its like if some nerd tried to explain how basic science or math works to me. Some people just don't get it. I understand why someone may think it is stupid for me to get so emotionally invested in these men who have no idea I even exist. On the surface I totally get that, and I even sort of agree. Why do I care so much? I wish I could understand it too. It really is stupid, but at the same time, I wouldn't have it any other way. It's impossible to describe the joy that David Ortiz has brought to my life to someone who isn't a baseball fan. But what he did throughout his career, especially in 2004, 2007 and 2013 just made life better. Especially in times when things weren't looking great. Mainly in 2013, when the city of Boston was attacked by terrorists. What he said and did on and off the baseball field helped heal a region. So I know some may say it's "just a game" and sure it is just a game, but there's just so much more to it than that. Is a great painting just a painting? Is a beautiful piece of music just another song?
Being a Red Sox fan is a gigantic piece of who I am. This game, this team and especially this player are responsible for so many great moments and memories across over half of my lifetime (which I'll get into) Moments and memories that helped shape who I am over the course of my life. Baseball is a game of lessons and I learned a ton of them over the last 14 seasons. You're never out of it until it's truly over, as we learned countless times with David Ortiz and the Red Sox. Don't give up when times get hard, keep swinging. Don't give up until the final out. I just think over the course of 14 seasons, I also aged 14 years watching David Ortiz. I grew up and became a man over the timeline of Big Papi's Red Sox career. A lot of things have changed over time, but there was one constant; David Ortiz.
I go back to 2003, I was 11 years old, and just starting to get into baseball. I can vividly remember my mom telling me to be careful falling for the Sox so quickly because they'd break my heart, as they did to her and millions of other Red Sox fans. But it was too late, I was all in.
I had started kind of knowing about the Red Sox before that from school, obviously knew about guys like Pedro and Nomar but 2003 is when I'd say I truly became a Red Sox fan. I had played t-ball when I was like 5 or whatever, but that was it for baseball in the first decade of my life. I just didn't care, it didn't interest me at that age, I was into pokemon and skateboards. That "Cowboy Up" 03 team is what got me hooked, all the personalities; Pedro, Manny, Millar, Damon, Nomar, and of course Big Papi.
Then 2004 came, boy what a fun ride that was. Honestly I feel guilty sometimes that I got to experience that at such a young age. I was relatively new to baseball. I was lucky enough to witness the Red Sox break their World Series drought so early into my fandom. Other people had been waiting literally their entire lives for that moment. I was 12. I lived in Florida at the time but followed them every game I could. We even had subscribed to NESN down in Jacksonville, FL and I had an MLB streaming package on our dial-up internet. (That's how you know David Ortiz has been a part of your life for a long time! DIAL-UP!) Then when the school year ended I went back to Rhode Island for the summer and I watched every game. I remember the fight against the Yankees that ended with a 3 run walk-off home run by Billy Mueller off of Mariano Rivera. That game was when you knew this team was special.
A few days later I returned back to Florida to start 7th grade but not before going to my first Red Sox game. Now it was in Tampa, yes my first Red Sox live experience was at the Trop. It was August 2nd, 2004 my mom and I saw the Sox win a game that Tim Wakefield started on his birthday. The Red Sox had just traded Nomar and I was devastated. I thought at the time it was a horrible move, man was I wrong. I can remember crying at my grandparents house when I saw on ESPNNEWS.
The playoffs came and the Red Sox swept the Angels in the first round. I remember in game 3 at home they blew a huge lead, as eventual AL MVP Vlad Guerrero hit a grand slam that stunned Fenway. Then Big Papi came up in the bottom of the 10th
This was the first walk-off HR by David Ortiz in the playoffs, but it would not be the last.
The Red Sox fell into a 3-0 series deficit against those damn Yankees and I thought it was over. They had just lost game three 19-8 and I was devastated. My mom kept telling me to keep the faith, and that it wasn't over, until it was over. I thought she was crazy and frankly stupid for thinking the Red Sox still had a chance. No team had ever even forced a game 7 after being down 3-0 in baseball. The Red Sox looked awful. Yet she kept the faith. To this day I still don't believe she truly thought the Sox would comeback. That she was just being her ultra-positive self. Regardless, she was right, as over the next few nights the Red Sox would pull off the greatest comeback in the history of sports to win the ALCS in 7 games. When I look back on the 04 Sox I think of two things: 1: David Ortiz putting the Red Sox on his back with 3 walk off wins, in route to a World Series title.
2: Watching every game with my mom. Memories I'll never forget. A lot of late nights watching extra innings baseball, on school nights. Lots of tears of joy when they beat the Yankees and Cardinals to win the World Series. I am so happy and grateful that I was able to share that experience with her. That made it even more special. To me that is what makes sports so great, the connection they give people. I can't tell you how many people I've connected with over the years just through talking sports. Or times I've traveled and seen a Red Sox hat or bumper sticker and just got excited to think like "yeah they get it".
The next year in the summer of 2005 I moved back to Rhode Island and for most of the next decade I didn't get to spend a lot of time with my mom. But we always had 04, and we always had the Sox to talk about. It was that postseason run, shared with my mom that is one of my all time favorite memories as a kid. Without Big Papi that doesn't happen. That's what I'm truly grateful for.
Then when I moved back to Narragansett in 8th grade it was the 4 different school I went to in 4 years. I had to make new friends all over again. It was hard, having to do that every year. As tween that can be very tough, but my love of sports, especially the Red Sox helped my form new friendships with the kids in school. When you're a nervous new kid it's nice to have a similar interest to bond with new kids over. For me I had the Red Sox (also the Pats and skateboarding) to help me out.
Over the course of my high school years there was always the Red Sox to talk about, and of course Big Papi. They helped me make new friends with people who weren't in my grade, and have something to talk to the cool teachers about as well. They've just been one of the biggest bonding factors I've experienced in my life and in a lot of ways I have Big Papi to thank.
In 2007 David helped the Red Sox capture a 2nd World Series crown in 4 seasons. While there isn't a classic all time highlight in 07 like there was in 04 or 13 David still dominated, hitting .370 with 3 HR and 10 RBI in the postseason.
Then in 2008 and 2009 happened. Although the Red Sox made the playoffs both seasons Papi by his standards struggled and many Red Sox fans were ready to write him off. He showed them by hitting 224 home runs from 2010-2016. 541 total for his career. Oh and he won another World Series in 2013.
Over the years, as I got older I starting growing up and going to Fenway Park as many times as I could afford and time would allow each season. I've probably gone to a Red Sox game with over 25 different people since my first Fenway trip the week after I graduated HS in 2010. Whether the team was good or bad, you can always go up to Fenway with some friends or family and have a great time. Didn't matter how the Sox were doing. It was just about having a reason to get together with people. Baseball, the Red Sox and Big Papi did that. That was always the best part, the fun times I've had with friends while being around baseball. I have many great stories that I don't want to put on the blog but if some of my friends are reading this (I doubt it) they can back me up. Obviously it doesn't hurt when the Sox are winning, but I've had some great times during some bad games as well.
The beautiful thing about baseball to me is how it's there for you almost everyday for 6 months. From April to September (and hopefully October) your favorite team is always there. They may not be great every year, but there's always a game. If you want to throw on the game for a few innings, basically every night it's there. If you are busy and can't watch or listen, its fine, they're still there. Baseball is the constant. During the season if you need them, they're there. Always there to help distract you from the real issues you'll face in your own daily life. There's always that game that you can talk to someone about. Players, coaches, and managers have come and gone but there was always the Red Sox and for me and many other Red Sox fans around my age, there was always Big Papi. It will be impossible to replace him.
That brings me to 2013. In my opinion the 2nd most important championship of 2000-present run Boston teams have been on. It just meant so much. After a collapse in 2011 and a last place finish in 2012 expectations were not high for the Red Sox. They started hot in April and then tragedy struck.
April 15th, 2013 the Red Sox have a walk-off victory against the Tampa Bay Rays on Patriots Day. Less than an hour later 3 people are dead near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Hundreds injured. I remember how crazy that week was with the man-hunt and everything. It was a really scary time.
5 days later the Red Sox returned to Fenway on April 20th, 2013 to a packed house at Fenway Park. It was a day full of emotions, and the Red Sox paid tribute to all those who lost their lives, were injured and the first responders on that Marathon Monday.
It was also David Ortiz' first game back from an injury. He gave a speech to not just the Red Sox fans at the game, but all of Boston and New England that we would not put up with this senseless terrorism. It's OUR fucking city.
Still get chills every time. To me, this is my favorite David Ortiz highlight.
David Ortiz and that entire team really helped the city heal in my opinion. The whole Boston Strong movement gave people something positive to think about during trying times.
Then in the playoffs, again David's star shined bright.
That is why sports matter.
So yes this year ended rather disappointingly, but David did not disappoint. In his final regular season Big Papi hit .315 with 38 HR 127 RBI. He led the American League in Doubles, RBIs, Slugging % and OPS. Not bad at all for a 40 year old in his last season.
It's going to be awfully tough to get used to a David Ortiz-less Red Sox. But life goes on. As does baseball. Thank you for all the great memories, 34. I feel like my crappy blog post didn't do you justice, but I tried. I have no shame in saying that I love you and you are one of my favorite athletes and people of all time. I can't believe its over, but I'm so happy it happened. Congrats on a fabulous Hall of Fame career. We'll see you in Cooperstown.