Thanks for the Memories, Boston

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David Ortiz, Editor at Large - The Players' Tribune

It’s weird when it ends. It’s not how you think it’s gonna be. A couple nights ago, my wife and I were sitting at home, having some drinks. The kids were in bed. There was no game tomorrow, no workout. We were just drinking and laughing.

I looked at her and said, “Babe, what’s next?”

She said, “What’s next?”

I said, “Yeah.…”

She said, “You’re waking up at 6 a.m. with the kids.”

Ahhhhhh, shit.

Before, I always had some workout to do, even in the off-season. Now I got no more excuses.

So the next morning, I get up at six to get the kids ready for school. I’m getting them dressed, getting the lunches ready, and my daughter’s telling about me something that happened on The Voice.

I’m like, “Yeah, baby, wow. That’s crazy.” And on the TV they’re showing the Cubs celebrating the World Series.

By the time they get to school, it’s 8 a.m., and I can’t go back to sleep. I’m a morning guy. I can’t just lie in bed. I remember I had some teammates back when I was playing Single A ball, and they used to sleep in all the time.

I used to say to them, “Bro, you like to sleep?”

They’d say, “Yeah, I love it.”

I’d say, “You ever bump into a million dollars in your sleep?”

They’d say, “No.”

I’d say, “Exactly. Wake up.”

So after I get the kids to school, I’m sitting on the couch, sitting on the couch, sitting on the couch.…

Then I was like, F*** it. I’m going to work out.

I called the clubhouse guys at Fenway at nine and said, “I’m coming over.”

Everybody was gone. It was just me and my trainer alone in the gym at Fenway.

You hearing the Rocky music, right?

“Dun-dun-dun-dun-dun….”

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Nah, bro. I started working out and I got tired so fast. The fastest I’ve ever gotten tired. I was dying.

All of a sudden, the president of the Red Sox came in and saw me working out. He was like, “See, this is the stuff that scares me, David.”

I’m like, “No, no, I just don’t want to be sitting at home doing nothing.”

“Do you have something to tell me, David?”

“No, no, no. I’m retired. I swear.”

Nobody believes me. Not even my teammates. On my last night in the clubhouse, after we got eliminated, a lot of them wouldn’t even say goodbye to me. Because they still think I’m going to show up at spring training.

I wish I could. My mind wants to. But my body just can’t do it anymore. For the past four years, it’s been a struggle just to get physically ready to perform. I used to roll up to the ballpark at 2:30 and be ready to go at 7. But for the past few years, I’ve been a noon guy. That’s how long it takes me to get the engine going with all the stretching and massages and treatment.

Getting old sucks.

I’m going to miss this game, but you know something? When I was sitting at my locker after that last game, I was all alone, looking around, and the only thought that came to my mind was, Damn, life is so crazy.

Everybody knows “Big Papi” now, but when I came into that Fenway locker room in 2003, I was desperate. For real.

I was 27 years old. I had just been released by the Twins. I didn’t even know if I’d finish the season with the Red Sox. I wasn’t in the starting lineup. I had family back home depending on me. My daughter had just been born. You ever seen how much diapers costs?

The pressure to make it was so intense. I believed in myself, but not a lot of other people believed in me.

Pedro Martinez believed in me. He saved me. Well, he saved me by almost getting me fired.

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It was June, and I still wasn’t starting. We’re in Philadelphia, and Pedro gets pulled out of the game in the eighth inning. I come in to pinch-hit for him, and Philly puts in a lefty and strikes me out.

I get back to the dugout, and the manager pulls me out of the game. I’m done. I was so frustrated. I was hitting .295, and I was getting like one at bat on a good day.

So I’m in the tunnel between the dugout and the clubhouse and Pedro comes up to me and says, “Let’s go.”

I say, “What you talking about, Pedro?”

He says,  “Let’s get outta here. I’m hungry.”

Listen, I’m a nobody back then. I got Pedro Martinez telling me, “Let’s go.”

I’m looking back at the dugout and guys are running out onto the field for the bottom of the eighth, and I’m like, Oh, shit.

It’s like the cool kid at school telling you to skip class.

I say, “You gotta shower man, come on.”

Pedro’s like, “I got this. Let’s go. I’m taking you to dinner.”

“Are you sure?”

Vamanos!”

“O.K., O.K., sir.”

What am I gonna do? I follow the big man to the car.

We had the lead. Two more innings. Whatever. The media will think we took a quick shower and got out of there.

So we get to this restaurant in downtown Philly, and we sit down and start ordering, and after a while, I look up at the TV by the bar, and I see there’s a baseball game going on. Not the highlights. Live. Boston and Philadelphia.

The Phillies came back and tied the f*****g game. It’s the bottom of the 13th inning.

I’m looking at Pedro like, BRO. SHIT.

Pedro doesn’t care. He’s cool, man. He’s like, Hey, whatever.

I’m sweating. I can’t even get into the starting lineup, and I’m eating chicken wings with Pedro while the Red Sox are still playing.

I’m looking at Pedro like, BRO. SHIT.

We end up losing the game in extra innings, and I come in the next day and.…

Man.

It was bad. It was really bad.

I was out of the lineup, of course. The media was pissed. Grady Little was pissed. I had to apologize to the whole team. I’m thinking, It’s over for me, for real.

Then something really crazy happened.

Two days later, I walk in the clubhouse at Fenway and my name is up on the board in the starting lineup. 1B: ORTIZ.

I’m like, For real? What’s going on?

I didn’t understand it, but Pedro was making a point. He wanted me to be in the lineup so bad that he was willing put his ass on the line with management. He went in to Grady Little’s office the day after we skipped school, and said, “Listen, that wasn’t David’s fault. I told him we were leaving. It was my idea.”

Grady said, “Are you crazy?”

And Pedro said, “No. You want me to re-sign in Boston, and I want to play with David Ortiz when I pitch. I believe in David.”

That was all it took. When a legend says that to you, I guess you pay attention. I never came out of the lineup after that.

From that day, I would do anything for Pedro. And I can tell you this right now, everything I have done in this game, I did with the help of two people in particular: Pedro Martinez and Manny Ramirez.

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Manny is the best hitter I ever saw. I learned everything from watching his work ethic. Manny wanted people to believe that he was lazy, that he didn’t really care. That’s how he spotted your weakness. He was a hunter. He wanted people not to take him seriously, especially other teams, especially the media.

The reality is that nobody worked harder than Manny.

Let me repeat that. Nobody worked harder than Manny Ramirez. Period.

I would talk to Manny about hitting every single day. When I first got to Boston, I kept wondering what made this guy so good. After a few weeks, I saw it was all based on work, work, work, work. Manny had an insane, ridiculous work ethic. But he wouldn’t let people see him in the cage. No cameras, no media, not even other players.

He would work out before everybody else got to the field. That’s not his legacy to most people. He’s the Fun Manny, always joking around, never being serious. But in reality, his brain was built to play baseball. Any other thing, maybe he wasn’t a genius. But baseball? He was a genius.

That’s what I want people to understand. When I look back on my career, that’s what I will miss the most. The everyday shit. Just sitting in the clubhouse and talking about baseball with baseball geniuses. Everybody knows what happened when we came back to beat the Yankees in 2004. But not everybody knows everything that went into those seven games.

You know how many hours Manny, Pedro and I spent hunting those Yankees pitchers before that series even started? Just sitting around, watching Moose and Pettitte and Rivera, talking about how to attack them?

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From the moment I got to Boston, I was around baseball geniuses, straight up.

People will remember the victories in 2004, and 2007, and 2013.

You know what I’m gonna remember when I’m sitting around having a drink?

I’ll remember Pedro Martinez coming up to me before the Yankees series in ’04 and telling me, “David, if you swing at Mussina’s first-pitch curveball one more f*****g time … let it go. You have to make him get behind in the count. Then he’ll go back to the curveball, and then it’ll be over the plate.”

I’ll remember Kevin Millar strutting around the locker room after we went down 3–0 in the series. He’s yelling, completely for real, “We got ’em right where we want ’em!”

I’ll remember when I walked out at Fenway a few days after the Boston Marathon bombing, and they had all the police lined up on the field —to salute them for what they did during the manhunt. Everybody in the crowd was still in shock. At that point, a lot of people still didn’t want to go outside. I wasn’t even supposed to speak that day, but somebody from the Red Sox grabbed me and said, “Papi, go say something.”

I took the microphone and said what I felt. What I said that day, I said as a citizen. Not as a baseball player. Not as a Red Sox player. I said it as a Bostonian who was hurting inside. I looked out at the faces of the people in the crowd, and it was different than anything I’ve ever seen at a baseball stadium.

People were screaming so loud, not as Red Sox fans. They were screaming as Bostonians who weren’t gonna be afraid anymore.

Six months after that speech, I hit a home run that I will always remember.

It was the grand slam in the ALCS that sent my boy Torii Hunter flying over the wall.

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Look at my boy’s feet. Every time I see this photo, I think of the WWE. Me and Torii came up together. That’s my brother. But I sent him over the top rope. Royal Rumble style, man.

Another thing I want you to look at in the photo is the cop’s face. This guy is screwed. Every time he takes a picture in Boston for the rest of his life, even with his kids, he’s gotta put his hands up like that. I saw him the other day outside the players’ lot at Fenway. He was taking pictures with 20 people. Every time, hands up.

Hahahaha. He’s screwed.

That’s my brother. But I sent him over the top rope. Royal Rumble style, man.

Those are the things I am going to remember. In 50 years, when people say the name David Ortiz, I don’t care if people know my numbers. It would be great to be remembered as a Hall of Famer, but let me tell you what I really care about.…

I hope people remember me as a guy who brought people together and brought a lot of fun to the game.

This game is supposed to be fun, right?

I remember when I first came to this country, I noticed that in America, people only hug when bad things happen. When there’s a disaster, or a bombing, or a tragedy, you hug.

In Latin America, you hug whenever anything happens.

So when I started playing in the big leagues, it seemed like everybody in baseball was very selfish. That was the culture. Most guys wanted to do things on their own. People said they were being “serious,” but really they were just being cold.

Where I’m from, when something good happens on a baseball field, you hug.

Shit, when something bad happens, you hug.

When I got to the Red Sox, I started giving my teammates big bear hugs when they hit a home run. Nobody really used to do that. At first, the media thought it was funny. They called us “the Idiots.” Back then, if a guy hit a home run, everybody high-fived and then sat down and ate f*****g sunflower seeds. That’s what being a professional was all about.

If I accomplished one thing in this game, I hope I ended that stupid mindset. I hope I brought people together.

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Now, when I’m watching baseball, I see everybody hugging. The Cubs? Those guys are like our old Red Sox teams. You know, it’s crazy … I was watching Game 7 of the World Series at home with my dad. When I was growing up in the Dominican, my dad worked as a car mechanic. He worked so late that he couldn’t come to my Little League games. Never.

He saw me play one inning ever before I came to America. We had a tournament game go extra late, and he got off work and ran down to the field to catch the end of the game. I hit a home run, and he got so excited that he literally ran out onto the field and started jumping around and yelling.

So we’re sitting there at my house watching Game 7, just me and him, and man … everything just hit me. The whole picture was in front of me.

The cameras showed Anthony Rizzo in the dugout early in the game, and he’s hugging David Ross and saying, basically, “Bro, my emotions are crazy right now. We’re here. Can you believe this? It’s Game 7. Holy shit.”

I got goose bumps. I was so nervous for them, and so excited, it was crazy. I’ve never been that nervous even when I was actually playing in a game.

You see these two guys in the biggest game of their lives, and they really care about each other. That’s what baseball is all about.

Listen, you only know the nickname “Big Papi” right now because Pedro Martinez cared about me. If he didn’t care about me as a human being, maybe I never get a chance. Maybe I don’t play 20 years. Maybe you don’t know who I am.

But he cared about me, and the story ends this way. That’s my brother.

Boston, thank you. When I came to this city, I didn’t know if I had a future. Now I have a home. Thank you for making me one of your own.

I’d give you all a big f*****g hug if I could.

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Thanks for the Memories, New York

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