I used to joke that Josh Beckett was the best pitcher alive in the odd-numbered years, and until his arm disappeared this season in Los Angeles, it seemed to mostly be true. He was a monster in 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009 and even 2011, seemingly using up all his energy in one year that it took him another 12 months to recover.
I used to think that about myself a little bit, that the even-numbered years were were it was at. 2004 was great, 2009 was a nightmare, and so on, but that idea has disappeared. Since 2010, I don’t have much to complain about, and I’m not about to complain about being mostly content. The idea of trading in that zig-zagging chart for more consistent attempts at success is appealing.
2013 was great on a number of personal levels, and to go into them here now would be unnecessary. But to address the baseball side of things, 2013 was flat-out amazing, led by the resurgent Boston Red Sox playing the game with vigor every night, led by Dustin Pedroia and Mike Napoli and Jon Lester and Shane Victorino and, most of all, David Ortiz.
Even before Ortiz went insane in the playoffs and before the Sox held up the World Series trophy, which was obviously a huge and unexpected deal, Ortiz was reestablishing the reputation of the team and cementing his place as one of the more popular Sox ever, alongside Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski and no lower. April 15 was the worst day I’ve ever been through, and April 20 went a long way towards returning to normalcy. All of the important work was done by the medical and law enforcement professionals in the city, who worked without regard for their own well being to make the city safe again and help everyone who had been hurt in the attack.
But there’s a lot of pride that comes with living here, and the need to just feel normal again was a big one. Part of that load was shouldered by the Boston Bruins, who played with heart and nearly delivered a championship along the way. Another part was played by the Red Sox, who, through the rigors of the baseball season, where back in our living rooms most nights, giving us something to focus on every night, doing their part to turn off our brains a little bit and just enjoy a game.
Ortiz, most nights, was great. Most years, for that matter, David Ortiz is great. He isn’t invincible, and long stretches, such as at the start of the 2009 season or at the end of 2012, have proved as much. But he’s obviously a prideful guy, and he works to keep himself in shape and maintain his own reputation. If that hasn’t been the story of his career, his ability to come through when he’s needed most has been.
The numbers were there in spades this season. His .309 batting average, .959 OPS and 30 home runs speak loudly, but his .688 average in the World Series stood out. His words on April 20, declaring for everyone who cared that this was our fucking city, spoke loudest. It’s been written about ad nauseum at this point and it will continue to be written about because it is perhaps the singular moment in a brilliant career, the point where sports and real life crossed in a healthy way, where pride and performance and escapism and the blunt force of tragedy clashed and revealed perseverance.
From that point began the slow march back into reality, where the fear of simple things like getting on the T to go to work or taking a walk in the park or sitting in a packed crowd dissipates over time. I went back to the office and did my job, Ortiz went back to the batter’s box and did his. He was rewarded for his efforts with an MVP trophy and the third championship of his career, and if we cared, we got to watch it with him.
David Ortiz didn’t save a life in 2013. He was not the greatest hero Boston saw this year. He simply did his job, and in doing so provided a living example of what it could mean to simply carry on. 2013 was a great year in a string of great years for Ortiz, where consistency and pride and delivering when it counts has always meant everything. He’s become an ambassador for the city in the process, and he’ll continue on in that role long after his playing days are over. I’ve always resisted falling behind the biggest player on the team, but it was impossible not to pull for Ortiz ahead of every other great name on the Red Sox this year.
Besides, no one wants to be Josh Becket. Everyone should want to be David Ortiz.