By Heather Nelson
(Published October 11, 2016)
Dear Big Papi,
Eleven-year-old Heather loved you, adored you. Without Big Papi the Red Sox wouldn’t be who they are today. The team I came to know and love (and hate) featured a character known for smashing dingers and flashing his toothy grin.
“Is it Paaahhhpi or Paaaaapi?” I remember asking my dad. And I never forgot.
Eleven-year-old me knew nothing about how terrible you played first base (or why that even mattered). This budding baseball fan didn’t understand the grind that you put in to earn a starting spot on a major league team.
But I recognized greatness. I recognized the lovable character, the charisma beaming from you.
In 2004, you made our (Red Sox Nation) hearts sing. Deemed the Yankee killer. That walk-off home run in Game 4 that would ultimately seal the Yankees’ fate. Ortiz: the hero. Ortiz: the Yankee-slayer. Ortiz: home run hitter. Ortiz: clutch-man. Ortiz: Boston’s guy.
Thank you, Large Father, for giving this sixth-grade sports gal ammunition against the Yankee boys in class. One mention of your name made them squirm. (This trick still works.) Admired by Boston and loathed by all else. Bases loaded, one out, ninth inning? Don’t pitch to Papi.
David Ortiz. No. 34 on your back, but No. 1 in our hearts. The face of a franchise. The star of my childhood. The 13-season veteran. A nine-time All Star, ALCS MVP, World Series MVP, home run leader. A Boston legend. (But not one of those folklore kind.)
Big Papi, someday, I’ll tell my kids about you. How you captured my heart and made me sad to see you depart. How you carried us through three World Series wins, and outlived the “Chicken and Beer” scandal. You even outlasted A-Rod. Lovable Papi and “Don’t Mess With Me” Papi. The guy who’d do anything for his teammates. I’ll tell my kids about how you genuinely loved the game of baseball, and how you never wanted your time to end.
I attribute my love of baseball to the 2004 Red Sox team — it’s when I fully devoted myself to be a tortured Sox fan. But, you ended that streak for many. You opened our eyes to a whole new world: winning. I couldn’t imagine rooting for any other team. The Red Sox embody charisma, grit, fantasy and everything I love about the sport. It’s hard to imagine life without Big Papi a part of the Red Sox. No one will take your place, Big Papi. “Papi, you are the only, only, only….”
Some people mark their years with birthdays; I marked mine with Red Sox seasons.
Even though it’s only been a day since, I’ll always remember your final game as a Red Sox player. How the team couldn’t deliver, and was swept in the ALDS. That final game at home — your final at bat. You earned a walk; there wasn’t a good pitch for you to take it away for us. I’ll remember angrily watching the opposing team celebrate on our turf, but the Fenway Faithful chanting, “one more year” while I did in my room.
I won’t forget your face — the smile completely gone. Sadness swept over you. One last salute to the crowd. “Papi, Papi, Papi….”
Big Papi, there hasn’t been a player that’s touched our hearts like you have. You made it impossible to miss a game, for fear we might miss a milestone. You brought us excitement filled baseball. Big Papi, you stole our hearts. You made me break that rule — the “no crying in baseball” one. And you might’ve broken it yourself.
Thank you for making 11 year-old me fall in love with baseball.
Heather, a lifelong fan