“You know, there comes a day in every man’s life – and it’s a hard day – but there comes a day when he realizes he’s never gonna play professional baseball.”
— Josh Lyman, ‘The West Wing”
David Oritz … it’s just a hard thing to wrap my head around.
The baseball of my childhood — Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco doing their Bash Brothers thing, Kirk Gibson, Orel Hershiser, Dwight Gooden, Wade Boggs, Ozzie Smith, Cal Ripken Jr., Ken Griffey Jr., Nolan Ryan — It’s long gone.
It was gone when I crossed the threshold into adulthood.
The guys who were on my trading cards from elementary school were fading into the twilight of their respective careers as I was just starting to truly grasp what the game was.
The depth. The history. The tradition. The Curse.
They exited the game as I was breathing those final last gasps of those childhood dreams we all share.
I would never be an Olympian. I’d never be a Major League ballplayer. And I’d never hit anything out of Fenway Park.
I remember the moment I was introduced to the very idea of David Ortiz.
I was sitting at a computer in Indiana, the humid July heat wafting into the room past sheer drapes on an open window. There were fireflies floating in the field outside. Literally, fireflies.
I was tending to my fantasy baseball team, “Charlie Brown‘s All-Stars” — because “Steve Horgan’s Fists” was still a good 16 years away from being a thing.
I’d plucked Ortiz, then a Minnesota Twin, off the waiver wire heading into the week, and when I checked his line, I discovered he’d kindly delivered nine RBIs and two home runs in four games.
“Wow, this guy is good.”
Wow, this guy is good.
How many times has Red Sox Nation collectively breathed the same words over the past 14 seasons?
Tuesday brought with it an unsettling moment of finality.
Ortiz exited the All-Star Game, surrounded by his American League teammates — the new greats of the game — awash in the overwhelming roar of appreciation from the crowd at PetCo Park.
It was beautiful. And poetic. And real.
Real because, for the first time this year, it began to hit home that this really is it.
David Ortiz became part of the background of my life as I was beginning to learn to live in the reality of adulthood.
The proverbial real world – where things don’t always go the way you planned. Where things don’t always work out. Where things aren’t always what you hoped they would be.
I’m not saying, in any way, that things have been tough for me. They haven’t.
But David Ortiz has been a unique player in my life, not just because he was the best player on my beloved ball club for the majority of my adulthood, but because he dared to defy the things I thought I knew about sports … and life.
That no one gets traded as an afterthought to the Twins and then gets cast off with no takers when his contract expires. And then becomes an MLB legend.
That no one walks off the Yankees in extra innings on the brink of elimination.
That, in the unlikely event of that happening, certainly no one could do it two games in a row.
That no one can rally an entire community with a microphone and just a few choice words.
Or that no one hits one into the bullpen with two outs and the bases loaded while trailing by four in the ALCS just because it’d sure be convenient to our World Series hopes if that happened.
That no one, in a muted game like baseball, gathers the team in a dugout, gives a rousing pep talk, and expects it to actually work.
The thing about David Ortiz is that he, more than any other player in any sport I’ve ever seen, made the impossible possible.
When thrust into storybook scenarios, he had a knack for writing the storybook ending.
He regularly incited hope for the best when faced with the worst.
And, in a game that had routinely left a city with broken hearts and shattered expectations, he dared you to dream children’s dreams.
We’re in the home stretch of David Ortiz and, once again, he is defying our best expectations and authoring the best final season of all final seasons.
There’s part of me that thinks it doesn’t matter much what happens next. He’s done so much already.
But he’s David Ortiz.
Somehow, even in this, the final hour, the best is yet to come.
Because that’s always been the case. Because David Ortiz is the most like David Ortiz in the latter stages of the game, of the season.
Because when hope begins to wane, he finds a way to kindle it.
Wow, this guy is good.