This was how the night, this season, was destined to go.
Yes, I can be a Red Sox cynic. But it’s a requirement of any longtime Sox fan to be as such. A balance between stupid hope and “of course they lost.” An easy rebuttal to that statement would be “You’re just a kid, you’ve had three World Championship teams since 2004! You haven’t endured endless heartbreaks by this team.” To that I say, you may have a point. But to be a true diehard fan of this team, you can’t escape its history. For Pete’s sake, their ballpark is quite literally a museum. You’re drenched in history. It’s a part of the Red Sox identity.
Mostly from our fathers and grandfathers, we heard stories of just how miserable it got. These fans romanticized a second-place, so-called Dream Team, or “The Impossible Dream.”
Now, my misery may not be as dramatic or long held as those sox fans before me. But there have been heartbreaks. Aaron Boone’s Game 7 home run in the ‘03 ALCS. The “Chicken and Beer” 2011 team that choked its way out of the playoffs on the last day of the season. As well as three last-place finishes in the past four seasons. I know, boo hoo, poor kid, use those three banners of yours to wipe up those tears.
You see that’s the point. That’s why this is important. The fact that I, and any Red Sox fan under 25 have only instances like this to complain about, goes to show just how important and impactful a player like David Ortiz was.
Now to follow through with my opening statement. Yes, the Red Sox has a great season. You can pick it apart from the teams highs and lows, to management decisions on and off the field. But really it wasn’t even the pitching staff falling flat in the first two games of the series that doomed them. It was the realization that this teams driving motivation this season was to send its 40-year-old franchise player off with another ring. That’s it. No other storyline or something worth fighting for. And with the toll of the long season. This noble effort was losing steam.
But that stupid hope that’s in every Sox fans DNA, told us Big Papi would find a way. To lead us to the promised land one last time. But really, after all of this. Of course they lost. The Large Father was coming off the best final season ever, let alone the best season ever by a 40-year-old. The season wore on him. The magic was running out.
That fact still doesn’t diminish that being there to witness the end in person was absolutely surreal. And I don’t think that sentiment was lost on anyone that stuck around to see David Ortiz on the field for his final goodbye.
It was a cool and breezy evening. In character for an early October baseball game. Even though this was October baseball: A spectacle that had eluded this town three of the past four years.
You couldn’t shake the feeling that permeated 4 Yawkey Way that fateful day. People went about with a nervous excitement that was a clear result of the mortality that loomed, even if it was just at the back of their minds.
So naturally, lots of people left, too many in my honest opinion. Yes, it was cool, the outfield bleachers were the first to thin out right as Travis Shaw’s pop up was caught to end the game. No one wants to see an opposing team jumping around and celebrating in the middle of their field. But Ortiz deserved a full house. To send him off. To truly thank him.
Not any of the pre-game thanks he was given in his final home stand. I was there for that, too. Makes you want to gag; it was too much. But I can’t say I blame the people who left early. Not only were they cold, but upset and in denial. After a season this team, this player, had. How could they believe that was it? It’s over, this era now has an end date.
This was no Yaz send off, and I think there is reason for that. Yaz was an old man, and it had shown through his final season. People knew that was it. They wanted one last glimpse of a legend. It’s different with David, he was going out on top, on his own terms. Not even the people who stayed behind could fully come to grips as to what this meant.
Analysts and people watching at home criticized the fact that David didn’t say anything to the fans. Well, to the still healthy amount that stuck around. It’s all they could have wanted from a man that had already given them so much to cheer for. Sure, there were phones out trying to record this moment. But for some of us: The feeling in that park. The final scene that was Big Papi’s curtain call. That will never leave me.
With a simple trot that we had become so used to seeing circling the bases. There he was, in the middle of the diamond, to wave one last tearful goodbye. We had been cheering for him ever since the last out. “We’re not leaving,” and “We want Papi,” and then finally, “Thank you Papi.”
John Grace is an avid New England sports fan.
Read Hundreds of Words by John Grace here.