Opening Day for the 2016 Major League Baseball season is a week away. It's a special day where all 30 teams are even. Everybody is is first place, and has a chance to be a good team. Everybody thinks this can be THEIR year.
David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox has the same goal as a every other player and team, to win the World Series. For the one we've grown to love and have called Big Papi for over a decade, this marks the beginning of the end. In November of 2015 Big Papi announced that the 2016 campaign will be his last. This is the last year we'll get to see #34 and his big signature smile at Fenway Park as the Designated Hitter for the Boston Red Sox. What remains to be seen his how the Red Sox will handle this? Will they make the playoffs this season?
When the Red Sox signed David Ortiz in January of 2003 nobody could have ever expected what was to come. 445 home runs, 1803 RBI, 9 All Star teams, 6 Silver Sluggers and 3 World Series titles later you could make the argument David Ortiz is the most important free agent signing in the history of not just the Red Sox but the entire city of Boston.
Yet despite all the success Big Papi has had, he has also had his fair share of criticism, from outsiders and Bostonians alike. Whether it be for appearing on a list for a "failed drug test" in 2003...people bashed David. For not running hard to first base on grounders or complaining about not getting proper credit for a hit or rbi.....people bashed David. For having seasons in 2008 and 2009 that were far below his standard....people bashed David. Since 2009 when many claimed he was "done" and the Sox needed to move on David Ortiz has had four seasons of at least 30 home runs, including the last three straight years. In 2012 after he hurt his achilles many said it was time to move on again from Big Papi, he followed that up by being a key piece of a World Series Champion in 2013, and took home World Series MVP honors by hitting .688 with 2 HR and 6 RBI in the fall classic.
Personally, I love David Ortiz. I've grown up with David Ortiz. Much like how I've grown up withTom Brady. Like Brady, David Ortiz has been a huge part of my life as long as I can remember. When Tom Brady took over as Patriots QB in 2001 and won the Super Bowl I was in 4th grade. Now I'm 24 years old, and David Ortiz has been on the Red Sox since I was 11. I honestly can barely remember life without either of them.
Now with the end officially in sight with David it has me reflecting. Just another sign that I am truly not a kid anymore, one of my childhood heroes is officially retiring. They say all good things must come to an end and man have the David Ortiz years been a great thing for the Red Sox. The man who I've rooted for for over half my life is not going to be playing baseball for my favorite team anymore. Every summer from as long as I can remember I've been following the Red Sox, and other than Fenway Park, Papi has been the one constant. Players and managers have come and gone but David Ortiz (when healthy) had been the DH of the Red Sox for basically my entire life. 2016 is going to be the final summer of Papi across New England. It's going to be a tough adjustment to life without him.
It's not like he's dying but it is going to be very weird to see a Red Sox team without Big Papi. Obviously there are more important things in the world and in life than sports. I get that. We all have own real lives and more important things to worry about whether it be work, school, or our loved ones. With ISIS and everything that has happened in Europe the last few months, we as a nation have to worry about terrorism today just as much as we did in 2001.
But to me and millions of other New Englanders David Ortiz has been responsible for creating some of our biggest memories. I can remember following the 2004 Red Sox vividly and really falling in love with baseball. I had sort of followed the Sox for a couple years before, but there's nothing that will ever be like 2004. What I really remember from that year is watching games and the entire playoffs with my mom. I have great memories of that run, but what I really think about is who I was enjoying it with and how it brought us closer together. Baseball did that. Thinking the Sox were dead down 3 games to 0 and her being the forever optimist saying it's not over. We all know what happened next. The story of 2004 Red Sox was bigger than just winning the World Series. It was about all the families, not just in New England but nationwide who had grown up loving that team and hoping that this was the year...year after year. It was about all the time spent watching and listening with loved ones who weren't around to see it. That championship was for everybody who ever rooted for the Sox.
Sports have brought me some of the biggest letdowns and heartaches but also brought me some of most joyful moments and best memories of my life. There's nothing like it, it's why we watch, for the moments or happiness. I've been lucky to have a ton as a Boston fan. I love being a Boston sports fan, it is a gigantic part of who I am.
Many will say sports are just a game and don't matter. In a sense they are right, it is just a game, but they sure do matter. Sports are important in the sense that they can bring people together. Whether it be family members getting closer or bringing strangers together for something bigger than themselves.
In any part of the country two random people can connect and talk about the local team. It's very simplistic but it's a big part of American life. Sports are at their core are entertainment, but they are also an escape from the harsh realities of life. Maybe you may can't stand your job, but look forward to watching your team when you get home. Maybe you and your mom/dad don't get along, but some team has always been the one thing you can talk to each other about. Theres a bunch of other examples I could list. The beauty of sports is they can just help you get through shit in life. I remember back in 2001 despite being the three time defending the champs, the country getting behind the Yankees and their run after 9/11.
To me personally, there's no example bigger of sports helping heal tragedy in real life than what David Ortiz and the Red Sox did for the city of Boston in 2013 after the Boston Marathon Bombing.
Even now, nearly three years later, thinking about what this region went through, and what Papi and that team did for not only Boston but all of New England brings tears to my eyes. That speech was more important than a walk off homer against the Yankees. It showed just days after tragedy that Boston was not scared and would not let some coward ruin our freedom. Despite growing up in the Dominican, David Ortiz is a Bostonian, and he said what everybody was thinking in his own way. Even the FCC had no issue with what he said.
On that Saturday afternoon in April nobody knew what was in store for the 2013 Red Sox. After Daniel Nava's 3 run-homer in the 8th inning put the Sox on top, that day and game was a sign of brighter things to come for Boston. The 2013 Red Sox season helped heal a city.
We all know about all the great seasons and clutch moments David Ortiz has had in a Red Sox uniform but to me his speech on April 20th, 2013 is his greatest highlight. When he gets a statue outside of Fenway Park some day I believe it will be depicting this moment.
Now the big question left is what is going to happen with David Ortiz's final season? The Red Sox as a team have had one of the strangest four year runs I have ever seen. Last place in 2012, World Series Champs in 2013, then last place again in 2014 and 15. Over that same time period however, Papi has produced on the field. Despite being on bad teams he has been the same David Ortiz, somewhere around 30 home runs and 100 RBIs a year.
In 2012 Atlanta Braves third basemen Chipper Jones retired and had the first real retirement tour I can remember. He'd go around from city to city and they'd all honor him with some sort of gift and ceremony before the game. The Braves made the playoffs that year, losing in the inaugural Wild-Card playoff game to the St. Louis Cardinals. In 2012, Chipper's final season, he played 112 games hit .287 and I'd say helped more than he hurt in his final year despite the "retirement tour" distractions.
More recently the Red Sox bitter rivals, the New York Yankees have had two of their own all time legends retire. In 2013, Mariano Rivera had his final season, and retirement tour. In 2014, it was SS Derek Jeter who retired and also had his farewell tour. In both of those seasons, the Yankees were somewhat competitive but missed out on the postseason. Rivera was the same old lights out sandman in 2013, 44 saves and a 2.11 ERA. Statistically he went out on top. Jeter on the other hand was a shell of his former self, while he did have a nice final moment in his last at bat at Yankee Stadium, many believed he was hurting the Yankees by still playing shortstop at 40 years old. The Los Angeles Lakers of the NBA are in a similar situation currently with the Kobe Bryant retirement tour. The Lakers are completely out of the race and essentially just dedicated the 2015-16 season as a goodbye to Kobe. His play is hurting the team but they are allowing him to still play major minutes.
With the Red Sox the 2016 season is a mystery, they have signed free agent pitcher David Price to sure up their starting rotation but the team still has a lot of question marks. They could win 75 games, they could win 95 games, neither to me would be shocking.
David Ortiz has also said before he did not want a retirement tour whenever his time was up, but after announcing his retirement in November it seems inevitable that he will have one as well. I personally have no issue with this, he deserves it. To me David Ortiz is the most important player in Red Sox history. Even more so than Ted Williams. While Ted Williams is probably the greatest pure hitter of all time he unfortunately had to go up against great Yankees teams and never was able to win a World Series. David Ortiz on the other hand, helped win three and end the 86 year title drought.
Some worry that now at 40 years old, this will be the year Papi finally breaks down and had a bad year and it would tarnish the whole last thing. I personally don't think that will happen, he's a DH and has the proven track record of success. I think he could probably play in 2017 too. The major question really is how will the Red Sox do. Obviously I'd love to see them rally around Papi's final season and win the World Series. Probably won't happen but I do expect this team to be in the hunt and fight for a spot in the post-season. With all of the clutch, historic post-season moments it sure would be fitting for David Ortiz to get one last run in October and maybe one more clutch hit to add to his résumé.
2016 is going to be David Ortiz's final season with the Boston Red Sox. It had to happen at some point, lucky for David, he is going out on his own terms. Not many professional athletes get to do that. It does make me sad because I really do love Big Papi and am truly grateful for all the happy moments him playing baseball has given me. I'm going to miss watching him hit countless home runs and breaking other teams hearts. The question of his Hall of Fame candidacy will be addressed a lot this year. Personally I think he should be, he's gonna retire with somewhere around 530 home runs and at least 3 rings. So many guys from this era have steroid allegations but I truly believe that he is a HOFer the numbers speak for themselves.
2016 will mark the end of the David Ortiz era in Boston. Hopefully it ends with a victory in the World Series. Either way I'm just happy and feel lucky I was able to experience all of it. Thank you Papi.
P.S. Couldn't write this blog and not include some of his monster highlights over the last decade plus.