Big stage. Big results. Big Papi.
An icon never tips his hand, but in a year filled with curtain calls from some of the most legendary names in sports, David Ortiz is singing a beautiful swan song. And it’s only the second verse. Sometimes, what’s right in front of us can be way tougher to explain than the strangest of fiction. To understand what David Ortiz is accomplishing, possibly at this very moment, you must look at what has transpired in the last couple of years. Ortiz is one of four major icons, across three different sports, to call it a career recently. One of them, Calvin Johnson formerly of the Detroit Lions, might not stay retired, but that’s a different story. No, let’s instead compare what Papi has done on and off the field with Derek Jeter and Kobe Bryant.
Since it’s still fresh in our memory, let’s delve into Bryant’s final year in the NBA. Throughout the past 20 years that he was in the league, Kobe and his 33,643 career points was one of the most polarizing figures in all of sports. Yet somehow, his marketing firm found a way to sell each arena around the league on “One Last Time” events. During the pregame introductions, he received standing ovations in places like San Antonio, from fans who once booed so loud and so long for him, they had to stop at Walgreen’s twice on the way home. In addition to the fake enthusiasm from fans who didn’t love Kobe as much as they let on, the Los Angeles Lakers were a horrendous team this past year, only accumulating 21 wins and missing the playoffs for a second straight year.
Who needs a reason to hate Derek Jeter in New England? No one. But, consider this: during a similarly emotional season, Jeter was only able to drive in 50 runs, with four round-trippers, on a team that under-performed. This comparison is partially unfair, due to the facts that Jeter was not a designated hitter, and he suffered through injuries which forced him to undergo surgery in his finals few seasons. As a rigorous athlete you’re not going to be able to sustain an elite level of play each night as you get older, which makes what Big Papi is doing all the more impressive.
BIG PAPI! David Ortiz goes deep for his 24th HR of the season. Red Sox lead, 13-2, over Twins.
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) July 22, 2016
The Red Sox are currently 2.5 games back of the Orioles in the AL East. With the All-Star break behind us, every run, pinch hit, balk, and sac fly, is more critical than ever. As such, Sox skipper John Farrell needs to put the best nine guys on the diamond to have a chance and keeping pace in a tight pennant race. David Ortiz has earned the right to be in that carefully selected lineup, and he’s done it the right way.
As a junior in high school, my first exposure to Ortiz was during the 2004 ALCS, in which all he and Johnny Damon did was belt the game-winning home runs that capped off a miraculous comeback from down 0-3 in the best of seven series against their arch rival. Times aren’t quite the same twelve years later, not as much urgency, but what’s similar is the way Ortiz, at age 40, is able to contribute with so much at stake. Ortiz still has the opportunity to do what sports superstars like John Elway did, retire as a champion, and give the fans one more “Fathead” poster to hang on their wall.
To paraphrase an old saying: The mark of a great storyteller is to leave people wanting more. In the world of sports, no retirement seems final until the following season gets underway, to find the athlete using his Roku Stick to watch the first game. Big Papi is doing it the right way, and without making a huge spectacle distraction in the way Kobe Bryant did, or just not doing a lot in his final year, the way Derek Jeter did. Perhaps next year at this time, you’ll be thrilled to see Ortiz show up in a “This Is Sportscenter” commercial, and think back to some of the moments which etched his name among the greats.