By: Jackie Hart, Sports Editor
The last time the Red Sox roster didn’t carry the name “David Ortiz” was January of 2003. This was a time when it had still been over eight decades since Boston saw their team win the World Series, before Terry Francona ever stood on the dugout steps at Fenway, and before there even was a “Big Papi.” The Red Sox had just failed to make the playoffs, and Ortiz had just been released by the Minnesota Twins, after they couldn’t find a team to trade him to and decided to save money by not renewing his contract.
Ortiz found himself thinking his career in professional baseball might be over, and the Red Sox found themselves needing a first baseman. So with a little crafty work by fellow Dominican Pedro Martinez, Ortiz signed a contract on January 22, 2003, provided he could make the final roster by opening day. And he did. But the rest wasn’t so easy. Ortiz had to battle his way to the top, and by the summer he had solidified his spot in the regular lineup. With his help, the Red Sox were able to face their old rivals, The New York Yankees, in the American League Championship. Even though he hit a critical home run in the eighth inning of the seventh game, 2003 didn’t have the fairytale ending we’d all hoped for.
In 2004, General Manager Theo Epstein gave him a one year contract and another chance. He took it and ran with it. By May 28 he had hit 100 career home runs and later that summer was named an All-Star for the first time. A few short months later, he made history.
In the twelfth inning of game four of an ALCS matchup with the Yankees, Ortiz hit a walkoff, two run home run to keep the Sox alive. Once the fourteenth inning of game five rolled around, he pulled a superman again with a walk off single. Six games later, he helped break the Curse of the Bambino and the city of Boston fell in love with their Big Papi.
For the next twelve years, it was the Papi show. Bringing home two more World Series wins in 2007 and 2013, he was there for it all. After beloved Francona was shipped away, Papi remained. When his friends were traded or retired one by one, he remained. Whenever things looked bleak for the future of the Red Sox, he remained a leader for his teammates and his fans.
Perhaps he was a Boston hero all along, but there was a defining moment. It wasn’t a heroic home run, and it was long before we heard the words “Play Ball” that day. No, David Ortiz’s finest moment came April 20, 2013 before a packed crowd at Fenway Park. After the Boston Marathon tragedy when everyone was filled with emotions of anger, sadness and confusion, Papi put it best, telling everyone present, “This is our f*ing city!”
October 10, 2016. David Ortiz took the field for the last time as a man on the Red Sox roster. Thirteen years ago, he thought he was out of a job, and his professional career was done forever. Funny how things change. What started as a man fighting for a first base or designated hitter position, became an essential piece of Boston history.
Now as the Red Sox begin their 2017 campaign, they’ll have to play without Papi, the first time since they broke the curse. Things will be tough and certainly different, but thankfully, Papi’s inspiration will always be a part of Red Sox Nation. As they say in the famous baseball movie “The Sandlot,” “Heroes get remembered, but legends never die.” Thank you, Papi.