While the David Ortiz storyline for the 2016 season is stupendous, awe-inspiring, the story of the aging hero coming home for a last hurrah is almost as old as storytelling itself.
You can date it back to somewhere in the 8th Century B.C., when Homer wrote the poem The Odyssey. There’s no reason to bring on violent flashbacks from your high school English class, but here’s the super-abridged version: The hero Odysseus, after a bunch of years at sea fighting monsters—and a year living out the heterosexual male pornographic fantasy with his buddies on the Island of Circe (some of them are turned into hogs by Circe, but what the Hell, take it for the team)—finally returns to his home in Ithaca. When he arrives, Odysseus discovers all the young bucks in Ithaca are sniffing his wife’s ass. Then Odysseus, who has aged since leaving for war, shows up all the younger guys with the ultimate walk-off/bat flip in a bow-and-arrow challenge.
Odysseus shot a bow; Papi swings a bat. But a large part of the appeal of Papi’s narrative is that it is an archetype, and as it plays out to its inevitable conclusion, we can guess at the ending.
There’s a good reason the theme song from The Natural is following Ortiz throughout Fenway Park like David Price’s precious pup, Astro, this season. In the 1984 film version of The Natural, Robert Redford plays hero Roy Hobbs, a former-prospect who was shot in his prime at 19 years old and doesn’t make it back to the Major Leagues until he’s 34 years old, an age where most players are finishing, not starting their careers.
You don’t have to watch the movie to know the ending. It is worth noting, however, that in Bernard Malamud’s novel, Roy Hobbs is an anti-hero and the ending is significantly different, one we would never wish on Papi.
Still, there’s the comparison between the Hollywood character of Roy Hobbs and David Ortiz, ancient at 40 years old, putting up some of the best statistics of his venerable career, and certainly making his case for the best designated hitter of all-time. Hobbs, upon his return, establishes himself as one of the best players in the game, despite his age. The human heart trumps our physical limitations. The young can still learn something from the old.
Sound familiar? And the story goes on, and we can’t get enough of it.
So how should David Ortiz’ narrative end? What would be the set-up and resolution for Act III of the 2016 season?
In the realistic scenario, Papi’s stellar numbers help propel the Red Sox into a postseason spot. He plays well down the stretch, and the Red Sox make it deep in the playoffs. Papi gets a 10-minute standing ovation at his last Fenway Park at-bat. The End.
In the Hollywood scenario, it’s Game 7 of the World Series. There are two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning at Fenway Park, and the Red Sox are trailing the Cubs 4-3. Bogaerts is on second after a two-out double. Papi walks to the plate amid thunderous applause…blah, blah, blah. The End.
In the chick-flick scenario, Papi starts the postseason slumping, and his wife Tiffany notices something that hitting coach Chili Davis missed. It’s not his swing, rather Papi needs to find his center, his emotional core. He needs to clear his chakras. And with Tiffany’s love and Reiki, and her yoga instructor’s guidance, Papi gets back his emotional core, his swing and becomes the World Series MVP. The End.
But this is why we keep watching. With sports’ fans, the story is often more interesting than the statistics. And, so far, Papi is masterfully modernizing an age-old story. Meanwhile, we’ll continue to sit on our hands, waiting to see it conclude.