By: Joe Kulesza
When sports are graced with the presence of a master at their craft, it does not matter what your favorite team is. True sports fans appreciate greatness. Even the most intense Boston Red Sox fans, like myself, can acknowledge what iconic Yankees legends like Derek Jeter did for the game of baseball and the city of New York. Baseball is truly to be considered as America’s pastime. Not just because it has been around longer than any other of the four “major” sports. Baseball has a way of unifying the American people with unbreakable determination.
Moments like President George W. Bush’s first pitch before Game 3 of the World Series on Oct. 30, 2001, just weeks after the horrible attacks on 9/11, are forever ingrained in the minds of those well versed in their knowledge of sports history. Giving people hope was what reminded a frightened nation that things would soon return back to normal. For those three hours, people were able to forget about life for a while, and accept baseball as an effective healing tool.
While Jeter, who famously stressed to President Bush the importance of throwing a strike on that memorable October night, saw himself ridden off into the sunset on the backs of a season-long “retirement tour” two years ago, the MLB has decided to recognize its respect for yet another missionary of baseball’s healing nature, David “Big Papi” Ortiz.
Ortiz, the Designated Hitter for the Red Sox who single-handedly helped them break the “Curse of the Bambino” back in 2004, announced earlier this year he would retire at the conclusion of the 2016 season. Helping the Boston Red Sox make it to the playoffs one final time, he is impressively sending himself off with arguably the greatest season ever by a player in his age-40 season, ranking tops in the league in almost every offensive category.
Ortiz had already been a fixture in the Boston community for many years with countless walk-off homeruns, both in the regular season and in the playoffs, when he brought his flair for the dramatic to a whole new level on April 20, 2013.
Boston was overcome with emotion just days after the Boston Marathon bombings. Before a sorrow-filled crowd, Ortiz addressed the “Fenway faithful” prior to the team’s first game back, producing yet another moment to add to the shelf displaying Baseball’s “Hall-of-healing.”
“This is our f—— city, and nobody is going to dictate our freedom!” Ortiz preached to the fans. At that moment, Ortiz wore his heart on his sleeve, and showed that while he did not originate from Boston as a person or as a ballplayer, he was just as broken and riddled with sadness as the Bostonians he played for were.
Having made it to the playoffs later that same year, the Red Sox were losing the American League Championship Series to the Detroit Tigers 1 game to 0, and were trailing 5-1 in Game 2 with 2 outs in the 8th inning. That is when Ortiz decided to add another homerun to the clutch playoff hit chapter. He taught Boston how to celebrate again by cranking a game tying grand slam into the bullpen in right-centerfield.
The image of the police officer throwing his hands up in celebration while Detroit Tigers outfielder Torri Hunter flipped over the wall in his attempt to catch the ball was the front-page headline heard ‘round the world the next morning. Even the men that risk their lives to serve and protect had their hearts invested in the Boston Red Sox, but more importantly, the city once broken but now reborn.
As Ortiz participates in his last month of October Baseball, who knows what clutch moments he can potentially add to his resumé. What we do know for sure is that David Ortiz is far more than a baseball player. His humanitarian acts both on and off the field first as a player, and then as a motivational speaker, encapsulate the virtue of how key moments in sports history prove that the game of baseball has the ability to stand tall against America’s enemies. Baseball and Boston thank Ortiz for the service he paid to not just to this city, to this game, but to this country. We are forever indebted.
Let October baseball be remembered as the time where baseball sees its impact heightened to unprecedented levels of faith-restoration. But most of all, let sports in general be a reminder of the brighter days ahead.