Sometimes, faith is rewarded.
David Ortiz taught us that. When things looked darkest, he swaggered up to the batter’s box, spit into his hands, clapped them together with the authority of Zeus unleashing a roll of thunder and proceeded to stroke the ball high and deep into the night, and out of Fenway Park. It was October 2004 and we were down 3 games to none in the ALCS to the New York Yankees, the game was tied in the 12th. This was not an unfamiliar situation, the pain and horror of 2003 was still fresh in our minds. Things looked darker than dark, we all know the story, we all remember that nauseating pit of fear in our stomachs as once again the Red Sox were well on their way to ripping our hearts out. David Ortiz took one swing and set the wheels of destiny in motion. Those were the days when even Superman and Chuck Norris wore Big Papi pajamas to bed at night.
There has been a lot of baseball played since those fateful days in 2004. For the most part, he cruised through the next few seasons, swatting 47 home runs and driving in a league leading 148 RBIs in 2005, leading the league in with 54 home runs and 137 in 2006, and hitting a career high .332 with another league leading statistic of an OBP of .445 in 2007. During these years he was a perennial All Star and MVP candidate. The Red Sox won another World Series in 2007 and life was pretty sweet for David Ortiz in Boston. Heading out of the 2007 season he needed surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee. After an unusually slow start in 2008, and a wrist injury that eventually needed surgery as well, it was clear he was not going to provide his usual game changing presence. He began to struggle and we were worried about this new Papi, but we managed to write it off to the injuries and had hopes for a brighter 2009. Unfortunately, 2009 did not start well for David Ortiz.
Just how bad was it? The beginning of the season (through May 31) saw a batting average of under .200, 48 strikouts in 208 at bats, only 18 RBIs, no home runs. The press started getting snarky, there were allusions to Mo Vaughn’s sudden decline and Jim Rice in the 80s, and there were speculations about Ortiz’s real age. It was said Big Papi had turned into Big Pop-Up. A home run on May 20 gave us hope. Fenway gave him a standing ovation and demanded a curtain call. The relief was palpable, but short lived. For the next two weeks Ortiz continued to struggle, he was dropped to 6th in the batting order, Boston fans walked a tight line between blind hope and total despair. June arrived and it was looking pretty bleak. However, hard work, determination and a little faith paid off. Big Papi started to look like his old self again, batting .310 so far in the month of June, hitting 6 homers and driving in 16 runs. We can cautiously say he’s turned the corner, he seems to have recovered his timing at the plate and a little bit of his swagger. Hopefully he continues on this path.
The most remarkable thing in all of this is we never stopped trying to believe in David Ortiz. Sure, we had our doubts about his ability to come back, but the fans rallied behind him, cheering him up to the plate for each at bat, and simply going quiet after each failure. No one knows how long this incredible patience would have lasted, and it was a result of the appreciation for everything David Ortiz has given us in the past, it made me proud to be a Red Sox fan. It is not often a player gets a free pass in Boston. In fact, it’s pretty much never. If you don’t perform, we generally decide we don’t like you and we get a little nasty, sometimes a lot nasty. The Red Sox, as an organization and usually with us fans in tow, have a history of running previously beloved star players out of town (see also: Garciaparra, Nomar). Things could have gotten ugly, watching Papi try to hit earlier this year was a frustrating, disappointing and depressing experience for everyone. It would have been easy for him to blame the past injuries, claim to be hurt again, and take the back door out of town. Luckily for us, David Ortiz seems to have rewarded our faith once again, nobody wanted to see Big Papi go down that way.