Goodbye, Papi

david-ortiz-topps-archive-2012My reaction was pretty typical. Travis Shaw hit that last fly ball into right field, it was caught and I turned off the TV. That was the end of the series, the end of the season and in that situation, I’m not typically into watching Cleveland celebrate the end of another year on the Fenway field.

Mostly, I wasn’t in the mood to watch others celebrate while David Ortiz’s career was now relegated to the past tense.

The last few weeks of the 2016 season have felt like a gauntlet, a “this is your life” played out every third or fourth day whenever Ortiz happened to be playing his final game in that particular stadium. And it was nice. Some of it was hokey, some of it was in pitch-perfect taste, some of it was overblown in that special way that every Red Sox ceremony is horrifically overblown. But they were all reminders that the clock was ticking. Sooner rather than later, Ortiz wouldn’t be in Boston’s lineup.

Just statistically speaking, he leaves a huge hole to fill. Those 38 home runs, 48 doubles and 127 RBI won’t replace themselves, not to mention a league-leading 1.021 OPS, and all accomplished at the age of 40. But that’s been prattled on enough by plenty of people, myself included.

And it’s not as if he leaves the Red Sox in shambles. Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Xander Bogaerts are already All-Stars and ready to shoulder the load for the next era. Hanley Ramirez broke through the doldrums and flourished this season with a happier disposition and a first baseman’s mitt that was nifty enough. They have pitching, defense and the three-run homer. As won-loss records are concerned, they’ll be fine.

But it’s the tutelage of Ortiz that helped Ramirez adjust in his second year back in Boston. It was Ortiz who was constantly in the dugout offering tips to Boston’s young core. In Game 1 of the series with Cleveland, he was shown giving an intense lesson to rookie Marco Hernandez. When Hernandez came on to run for Ortiz in the eighth inning last night, Ortiz again took a moment to hype up Hernandez, encourage him and impart just a little more wisdom in another tight game.

He traded in his helmet for a cap, and promptly found a spot on the top step of the dugout. The rally ended with a Bogaerts line-out to second, but Ortiz kept his spot on the top step for the final inning. He had done his part for the night, and he wanted to play at least one more game.

There’s the notion that he deserved a better ending than he got, but typically, we don’t get what we deserve. We get what we get. As a group of fans and a city and a region, we got this gregarious man, this huge personality with a flair for the dramatic who did everything he could to win baseball games. He did it with style, he was completely and utterly himself and in the process, he became our ultimate citizen.

When Travis Shaw’s fly ball was caught, it marked the end of his baseball career. I usually turn the TV off that quickly because I’m annoyed, because I want the Red Sox to win a game or because I don’t want them to be knocked out in October. Last night, I turned it off because I didn’t want to linger on the idea that Ortiz’s career was over.

But he did deserve better, and he got it. Following the last out and the Indians’ celebration, most of the fans refused to leave the park. They waited until they got one more chance to say thank you to the man.

Finally, Ortiz walks out. In a red sweatshirt and surrounded by photographers, he steps out to the mound and just lifts his cap. He waves to the fans in every section of the park, he touches his heart and the cameras catch tears welling in his eyes. There’s no microphone, no script and no ceremony. Finally, he walks back to the dugout, stops to tip the cap to the crowd one more time and steps down the tunnel.

And there goes the greatest we’ve ever seen. Forgive us for not wanting it to end.

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