David Ortiz stepped up to the microphone, wiped the tears from his eyes and paused for the sold-out Fenway crowd to shout “Papi!” a few more times.
The Red Sox team awaited at the top of their dugout. Friends, family and dignitaries from both the US and Dominican Republic lined the infield. Three World Series trophies gleamed in the sundown light. The only ones capable of knowing how he felt were Hall of Famers Carl Yastrzemski, Pedro Martinez, Wade Boggs and Jim Rice — whose numbers preceded Ortiz’s to the Fenway façade.
“It’s an honor to get to see my number right next to all those legends,” Ortiz said before his No. 34 was unveiled along the right-field roof boxes last Friday night.
Ortiz retired last season as one of the most prolific offensive players in franchise history, and the single-most important player to wear a Red Sox uniform in one hundred years. With three World Series titles — including the 2004 championship that ended a drought of 86-years— Ortiz dragged the ballclub out of its disappointment and gave a fresh generation of Bostonians reasons to fall in love with the Red Sox again.
But it was Ortiz’s defiant speech after the Boston Marathon bombings that cemented him as a civic hero and helped prompt the Red Sox to retire his number less than a year after he retired. As a nod to his foul-mouthed challenge to those who would test the city’s resolve, Ortiz took the microphone on Friday with the welcome, “This is his (pause) city.”
Ortiz is the tenth Red Sox player to have his number retired, and he was joined by four of the others, plus family representing the ones who couldn’t be there. Representatives from the Dominican Republic, the city of Boston, and family of Minnesota Twins Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett, from whom Ortiz adopted his No. 34.
“Thank you, Lord, for allowing me to give Boston the greatest gift ever: my compadre, David Ortiz,” said Martinez, who helped persuade the Red Sox to sign Ortiz in 2003 and then joined with him the next year to win the title.
Much like it was last season, when Ortiz made his farewell tour, the stadium was decorated in his honor, from a five-story silhouette hanging from the courtyard ramp outside to the No. 34 mowed into the outfield grass. Fans were provided with posters with the No. 34, and it was also painted onto both on-deck circles.
After both the Dominican and U.S. national anthems were played, Ortiz took a ball from ex-teammate Tim Wakefield and threw (somewhat wildly) to former catcher Jason Varitek.
The beloved slugger shook hands with virtually everyone on the field as he left it, accompanied by video from the careers of the other 10 players with their numbers retired.
Though the Red Sox have offered Ortiz a spot in the organization, he told reporters that he has stayed away from the team since his retirement to avoid being a distraction. However, he has discarded not to consider it again in the future.
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