Last night, when the Cleveland Indians defeated the Red Sox 4-3, it eliminated Boston from this year’s playoffs. It also marked the final game of David Ortiz’s career, and ended an era where the Red Sox transformed from cursed losers to World Series champions.
When Ortiz was traded from the Minnesota Twins to the Red Sox before the 2003 season, he had a relatively unremarkable five-year career, in which he never hit over 20 home runs in a season. He was just another guy.
In Boston, he transformed into an MVP and a Beantown legend held in similar regard to Paul Revere. He became Big Papi. His clutch hitting in the Red Sox improbable 2004 run to their first World Series since 1918 helped end the storied curse of Babe Ruth that loomed over the franchise for 86 years, and for generations of Bostonians, seemed permanent.
In a town that had become terrified of pressure moments, he embraced them. Often.
In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombing in 2013, Papi served as a symbol of “Boston Strong” when he addressed the crowd prior to the Red Sox first game since the attack. He was more than a player, in that moment he WAS the city.
If this is the end for Ortiz, he will take his place in the pantheon of Boston sports legends alongside Bill Russell and Bobby Orr. After the game, he addressed the Boston fans in an emotional farewell.
In an era of athletes who are products of PR craft, and canned sound bites, Ortiz, as always, was authentic and real. And Boston will always love him for it. He made them champions.