Red Sox legend having career year in what will be his last
By Richard Justice
SAN DIEGO -- On his last All-Star ride, David Ortiz is hoping to slow the whole thing down.
"I'm going to try and take my time and have fun," he said. "Maybe I'll see things I haven't seen before. Everything moves so fast."
Ortiz understands this will not be easy, since every step he takes in hallways and restaurants and clubhouses leading up to his 10th and final All-Star Game (tonight on FOX, coverage starts 7:30 p.m. ET) prompts a memory for someone.
Players want photos with Ortiz. Reporters want to endlessly gauge his emotions. Fans tug at his sleeve to tell him what he means to them.
This victory lap is appropriate for someone who has had a front-row seat and been a major player in the transformation of an entire sport. Ortiz marvels at the changes he has witnessed in 20 years. He understands baseball is better now than it has ever been.
There's more competitive balance, as well as technology that has made the game more accessible and enjoyable for this generation of fans.
Ortiz gets it.
"You look at the game right now," he said. "This is the best it can ever be. What I'm seeing in the game right now is unbelievable. Everything has gotten better. I watch games on TV now and feel like I'm there."
Now, an entire sport is trying to figure out a proper goodbye to one of the greatest players and most charismatic figures it has ever had. Wouldn't it be simpler if Ortiz just called this whole retirement thing off?
"He's not retiring," Mike Trout said. "I don't think that's possible."
Trout means careers don't usually end this way. At 40, Ortiz is having one of his best seasons: 22 home runs, 72 RBIs, 34 doubles and a .332 batting average.
Those aren't retirement numbers.
"I hope he doesn't retire," Robinson Cano said, "but if he does, he's going to be one of the players everyone really misses."
Just to be clear about the retirement thing, Ortiz is resolute. His 20th season will be his last.
"What can I tell you? It's a blessing," Ortiz said. "Most players don't have the opportunity to walk away from the game on their own terms."
To understand why this guy is so beloved and respected by so many begins with a variety of factors. Ortiz has 525 home runs, 19th all time. He's a 10-time All-Star that has finished in the top five in American League MVP Award voting five times.
October? Because of Ortiz -- and others -- people will never think of the Red Sox the same way.
Ortiz was front and center as a franchise that hadn't won a World Series in 86 years captured three of them -- 2004, '07 and '13. In 14 World Series games, he hit .455.
Ortiz was given the name Big Papi by former Red Sox player and current broadcaster Jerry Remy.
"I called everybody Papi because I have trouble with names," Ortiz said. "He turned it around on me."
Ortiz's appeal has extended far beyond the playing field. He's involved in community work, deeply, in Boston and his native Dominican Republic.
Ortiz was also part of a Boston moment larger than any of those championships. In the wake of horrific Boston Marathon bombings in 2013, he spoke for an entire city when he took the microphone a Fenway Park five days after the event.
"This jersey that we wear today. It doesn't say Red Sox. It says Boston," he said. "This is our [bleepin] city, and nobody is going to dictate our freedom. Stay strong."
That moment came to define a city's courage and defiance. Ortiz was already one of baseball's iconic players, but those words will live forever in the hearts of New Englanders.
Three years later, Ortiz is still amazed by the reaction. He said he simply spoke from the heart.
"The most important thing is to let the fans know that we care about other things, not just baseball," Ortiz said. "Sometimes when we have a lack of communication things can be misunderstood.
"I never thought I was going to make that impact. I was one of those people suffering at the time. I spoke out of my heart. I said what I was feeling, as a citizen. If I had to do it again, I would do it again."
Now this final All-Star Game is part of a larger victory lap. Ortiz is here with the three young teammates who he has clearly energized.
"On the plane ride, I told 'em to have fun and enjoy," Ortiz said. "You're going to have many more. They're going to have many more. Personally, I'm going to have so much fun watching them.
"Right now, I feed off their energy. I love watching them do what they do. Those kids have brought so much to the table, especially for a veteran guy like me. They motivate you every single day."
Ortiz is here to soak in the attention and the gratitude, and also to let the sport know that those feelings are a two-way street.
"I'll miss being around the guys," he said. "That's a second family. I like having that connection, not just teammates, but friends around the league. Those are things I'm going to miss."
During a 45-minute news conference Monday morning, Ortiz couldn't have looked more relaxed. He said he'd given the game everything he possibly could have and got a lot back, too.
When told that his jersey was baseball's No. 1 seller, Big Papi smiled.
"I'm a lovely person, man," he said. "I don't know. I try to be sweet. People understand that. I'm sociable."
Turning serious, Ortiz said, "You guys know when we're faking and we're not. I am who I am."
Every once in a while, a player comes along who simply is special. On the field. Off the field.
Ortiz has been like that. He did breathtaking things on the field. Big Papi captivated us off the field, too.
Here's to one last All-Star memory and to understanding how much he will be missed.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.