Ortiz made his farewell the grand finale of '16

Boston slugger's goodbye tour one of MLB's top stories of year

Ortiz made his farewell the grand finale of '16

BOSTON -- As it turned out, David Ortiz was even a legend at saying goodbye.

Closure is never an easy thing for anyone in any profession.

But Boston's Big Papi somehow kept mashing right until his final days, all the while taking time to soak it all in and be gracious at every turn.

Without question, Ortiz's farewell tour turned into one of MLB's biggest stories of a memorable 2016.

What made it such a standout subplot was that Ortiz went out on his terms, proving he was able to walk away while still being one of the best players in the game.

Ortiz used his 40th birthday -- Nov. 17, 2015 -- as the occasion to announce he would play one last season.

He subsequently turned it into arguably the best final season any baseball player has ever had.

Ortiz hinted something like this could be in the works when he gave his press conference at the opening of Spring Training.

"Don't take me wrong," said Ortiz. "Don't think that just because I'm retiring after this season that I'm not hungry. I'm still hungry. I was going at it this offseason just to come in and have another good season. And I'm going to be pushing my teammates the best I can, the best possible. I think we have a balanced team, a little bit of everything."

Must C: Papi's go-ahead home run

The left-handed-hitting slugger proved to be prophetic about himself and his team.

Ortiz led the Major Leagues in OPS (1.021), doubles (48) and slugging percentage (.620) while belting 38 homers to go along with 127 RBIs. The Red Sox won 93 games to finish in first place in the American League East, successfully bouncing back after consecutive last-place finishes.

And through it all, there was love for Big Papi -- not just in Boston, but everywhere the Red Sox played.

Each road city provided Ortiz with a ceremony during Boston's final visit there.

The gifts were plenty, from the surfboard in San Diego to the salmon in Seattle to the giant jar of peanut butter in Minnesota (ask pranksters Torii Hunter and Corey Koskie for details on that one).

The Yankees, Ortiz's top rival through the years, came through with a poignant journal that had handwritten entries from current and past players. Ortiz was still talking about the meaning of that gift weeks later.

Ortiz honored by Yankees

Then, there was the lovefest at Fenway Park during the final weekend of the regular season. And in the Friday night opener against the Blue Jays, Ortiz put the Red Sox ahead with the final home run (No. 541) of his career, a line shot down the line in right in the bottom of the eighth.

Before Sunday's finale, there were tears all around Fenway, including from Ortiz, who got emotional when reflecting on his late mother, who died in a car accident in 2002.

By the time the ceremony ended, a street and a bridge were named after Ortiz. The Red Sox announced that No. 34 would be retired in '17, and they also made a $500,000 donation to his charity, the latter gesture leading Ortiz to cover his mouth in disbelief.

Fans say goodbye to Big Papi

There was just one low point to Ortiz's ending. Boston was swept out of the Division Series by the eventual American League-champion Indians, and there would be just one postseason game played at Fenway Park.

Amazingly, the Boston fans were able to quickly push aside the end of a gut-wrenching elimination loss and turn their attention to Ortiz. It seemed that nobody left the ballpark after the last out. Instead, they all stood and called for Ortiz to return to the field so they could salute him one last time.

In one of the most emotional scenes you'll ever see, Ortiz came back out about 10 minutes later with the theme song from "The Natural" booming in the background. Trailed by cameras, he walked to the pitcher's mound and waved to the adoring crowd, tears welling up in his eyes.

Papi bids farewell to Fenway

Just like that, it was over.

"I'm proud to be his teammate for so long," said Dustin Pedroia. "I've been through a ton of tough games with him -- great wins, terrible losses. We've been through everything together. It's going to be tough not having him around."

And that sentiment stretches beyond Boston.

"Just what he's brought to the game. The smiles, the spitting on the hands, the smile," said Orioles center fielder Adam Jones. "That's what baseball is going to miss. The person -- David Ortiz, Big Papi. that's what baseball is going to miss. Home, road, no matter where he was at, he was loved by both sides of the fans."

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.