Viva El Papi

My father turned 11 the spring training of 1967. That’s really all you need to know about why I’m a Red Sox fan. Soon after, Carl Yastrzemski took him and thousands of other children across New England on a ride that fell one game short of ending the Sox’ then-49-year championship drought.

Whenever the Sox needed a win that year, Yaz seemed to be there, providing the hit, playing the game hard, winning convert after convert into Red Sox Nation. My dad, growing up on the Connecticut-Rhode Island border, was one of those. He later saw Yaz play in the 1975 ALCS and as a teen, he saved up money from his paper route for a baseball glove with Yaz’s signature stamped onto the heel — the same glove I played catch with in my backyard as a kid. The baseball Yaz autographed for my father sits atop the bookcase in my office.

Yaz was clutch — not only did he save baseball in Boston, he was the
face of the Red Sox franchise for decades and he brought a presence to
the plate my dad still talks about. With the game on the line, who did
you want? Carl Michael Yastrzemski.

Today, we saw the successor to Yaz’s throne — the face of the
franchise, an ambassador of the game and the savior and deliverer of
the 2004 season — perform his magic yet again. With one out, one on
and the game tied in the bottom of the 10th, who here doubted that
David Americo Ortiz would deliver?

We are watching something special. Ortiz might not have Yaz’s career —
he’s pretty old to be shooting for 400 home runs or 3,000 hits; the
Hall of Fame appears unlikely. But he has Yaz’s touch. Single-handedly,
he delivers wins in big moments for Boston. He rescued hope from the
ashes three times two years ago, and he’s done it time and again since.
He did it today in a battle that looked like the Phillies would win —
if not in the 11th, then shortly after.

But the best thing I’ve seen Ortiz do was on Opening Day at Ameriquest
Field. A boy, maybe 6 or 7 years old, stood to one side of the Red Sox’
dugout. Big Papi was maybe 50 feet away, standing next to the batting
practice cage. The boy was wearing a Rangers cap, but he was insistent:
"Mr. Ortiz! Mr. Ortiz!" Papi turned around with that huge smile, put a
finger to his lips and gestured. Five minutes. True to his word, he
ambled over, the boy tossed his ball, and Ortiz provided the autograph.
I think about the Yaz baseball and the Yaz glove, and I think that
little boy might not be a Rangers fan too much longer. If nothing else,
I doubt he’ll ever like another sport as much as baseball.

Thousands of children watch Dacid Ortiz, their imaginations captured,
and they fall in love with the best of all sports. And they’ll grow up,
and they’ll pass that love to their children. Red Sox fan, Yankee fan, baseball  fan — how can you not love that?

3 comments… add one
  • The Ortiz T-shirt/jersey is easily the most popular people-covering in the Boston area. Every little kid from every neighborhood in town loves this guy. That infectious smile, that Carribbean accent, that Mo Vaughn-on-steroids physique (sorry…bad analogy)…like you said, Paul, what’s not to like about PapĂ­?

    Steve June 25, 2006, 11:25 am
  • Paul, I was on the verge of my 11th birthday that incredible summer of 67… Growing up on the opposite border of R.I. about 50 miles from your dad. I still remember the smells of the huge clam bake we had that summer wafting through the air as the sounds of the Red Sox on the radio and the excitement of rooting for that team pervaded everything.
    In my mind’s eye I can still see Rico Petrocelli drifting back to catch the pop-up that clinched the pennant, Rico jumping with such joy afterwards!
    Oddly enough, though I love Yaz, loved him then and will always love what he did for the Sox (can still see him throwing guys out at second on balls hit off the wall); The one guy that epitomized the Red Sox of 1967, FOR ME, was Tony C. I can’t really explain it, and I know that Yaz was a monster at the plate that year, I guess I wasn’t old enough to fully comprehend the feats Yaz performed in 67. Still, what I remember about Tony Conigliaro was the ferocity coiled inside him ready to be unleashed every time he stepped to the plate. I recall the promise and potential he represented, being the youngest player ever(at the time)to reach 100 HR! I remember being so devestated when he got hurt, it made me so mad.
    Sadly enough, I believed then, and I believe now, that the absence of Tony C. on that World Series squad was the difference that cost the Red Sox the Series.
    Which brings me to this, In all seriousness, over all the years of suffering the magnificent failures of the some GREAT Red Sox teams, it is my own personal observation that no one in a Sox uniform has ever represented menace to an opposing pitcher the way Papi does. It is my belief that not only does David Ortiz exude threat potential unrivaled in Red Sox history, at least in my lifetime, but that if he were to never play another game, Big Papi will live as the greatest clutch hitter I EVER saw, past or present.
    Now, let me say that I have watched some incredible performaces over the years, and I include such heroics as Reggie Jackson’s 3 home run World Series game and a hobbling Kirk Gibson’s game winning world series homer among them.
    But I have never seen anything that rivals Papi’s back to back extra inning walk offs in the 2004 ALCS It was one thing that he hit the homer in the forth game, but then to drive in the winning run in extra innings of the 5th game with a broken bat single that he contorted his body to muscle into the outfield will be etched in my mind forever.
    Manny, Nomar, Wade Boggs, Rice, Lynn, Dewie, Pudge, Yaz, Tony C and host of others have given me so many great memories (who could forget Dave Hindo Henderson’s ALSC and WS homers or Bernie Carbo’s pinch hit homers, or Fisk’s in the 6th game?). Incredible performances… for me none of them are even close to the stature of Papi when it really matters. Greatest clutch hitter I ever saw? It HAS to be Ortiz.

    Brian Houk June 25, 2006, 11:27 am
  • Red Sox 8 Phillies 7
    Did I mention that David Ortiz is the greatest clutch hitter I have ever seen?

    Brian Houk June 26, 2006, 6:15 pm

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