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On David Ortiz

February 7, 2022
One: I am sitting in a car in Chicago, a little kid strapped into a car seat in the back.
She is not my kid. She is the daughter of my wife’s childhood friend and we have met up with them for lunch, and because we have a car and they don’t we are taking the friend and the daughter on some errands around the city, which is all the way across from where we’re living.
I hate driving, of course. Double that when it comes to driving in a city like Chicago, which was a nightmare of a city to try to figure some eighteen years ago, when no one had magic phone aps that told you what to do.
My wife and the friend have gone into a grocery store, and because the kid is napping or nearly napping, just doing that eyeballing the window in a trance thing that promises that she’ll be asleep in a minute or two, I am left in the car with her. She is at that age where she is just figuring out language and she’s been chatty and hilarious all day long.
We don’t have kids then. We are a long way from having kids: five years from starting to consider that and a few more before consideration turned to real life. This day in Chicago is, in fact, the time I’ve ever met the kid of someone my age, and I am absolutely uncertain how I am supposed to interact. But she – the kid - doesn’t seem to notice uncertainty or even mind it, and she very quickly ascends the list of people I most like in the world.
And she is nearing sleep and I am listening to the baseball game on the radio because the Red Sox are playing one of the Chicago teams. And David Ortiz comes up to the plate, and he does what he always does: he hit a go-ahead home run of some magnitude. And aware of my situation I try my best to restrain myself from making too much noise because I don’t want to startle the kid into being too awake. I am probably illegally parked, and I don’t want to have to drive off and circle the block for another spot. I consider, too, that I don’t actually have any legal justification to be operating a vehicle through the streets of an unknown city with a child I’ve only just met.
But Ortiz hits one and I probably clap my hands. And I certainly say his name, because from the back seat I hear an echo of that name, "Ortiz!", with the uplift when you get to the ‘eeeeez.’ I adjust the rearview mirror and the kid is looking at me and she says it again, "Ortiz!" and I repeat it, and we both start saying it, "Orteeeez, Orteeeez! Orteeeez!" until her mother and my wife get back and find us, one child and one adult, gleefully calling out a name like two lunatics. And I apologize about delaying her nap and I apologize, too, for inadvertently trying to convert this child, under my direct care for perhaps five total minutes, to the weird religion of baseball that sometimes consumes me and usually baffles everyone else.
Ortiz! Orteeeez!
*            *            *
It is difficult trying to summarize how David Ortiz fits into my experiences of baseball. He is omnipresent: there is no other baseball player who figures so distinctly in my memories as him.
He is not my favorite player, or even a player I gravitated much towards. He is a hitter, only: his gift as a baseball player exists in the brief fraction of a second when he has to make a judgement and then get his body to act on that judgement. It is a private space, a space we can't access.
He is not my favorite player, but he is also the favorite player. He is the collective favorite, the joyous one that no one who roots for the Boston nine could ever disdain, or even criticize too harshly. In those brief fractions of seconds, he has been granted, he has given all of us more than we could reasonably ask. And then he has done it again and again.
*            *            *
Two. Years earlier than Chicago.
I am a teacher’s aid in a Boston school in one of the suburbs, and it is a Friday, and the plan among the teachers is to go to the local bar and eat and drink and stay for the ALCS game against the Angels. The Red Sox are up 2-0 and they have come home to win it, so they can play the Yankees again in the next round. Last year they played in that round, and I watched the last game with two of the other teachers until Wakefield gave up that homer to Aaron Boone, and that moment felt like we had been given our moment, our Buckner or Dent. That homerun.
So all day long we are humming because the Sox are coming back to Boston to win it, and they’ll certainly win this series and the Yankees will beat the Twins and we’ll get our chance again.
We are a merry, boozy lot. Teachers and nurses: if you want to know who in the world cuts loose like no one else, it’s teachers and nurses.
During the game the Red Sox are up four or five runs early, and they stay up, and they stay up, and they stay up.
And then the seventh inning rolls around and the Angels are down four and they have somehow managed to load the bases and he is up. Vladimir Guerrero. Vlad-the-Impaler. Vlad-the-Original. That guy with the bare hands and that berserker swing.
We are, until that moment, a crowd of boozy and warm and happy souls, but I know what was going to happen, and I think everyone in the bar knows what was going to happen. It feels inevitable, fated, and it does happen. Vlad launches one to right and the entire park and the entire bar and probably the entire city senses the wind coming out of the sails, because we’re in Boston and this is a script we know all too well.
And it’s tense, and tense, and tense. And then in the tenth Ortiz comes up, and he strokes one over the Monster and sends us on.
There is this beautiful moment where Ortiz is rounding first and the team is streaming out of the dugout behind him, a blur of white and red jerseys, and they are moving one way and he is moving in the other direction, his eyes are still on the place where the baseball has disappeared, and weeks later I watch it again and wonder if he knows what was coming.
*            *            *
The next week weekend we have a party at our apartment. I am living in Somerville, then, on the second floor of one of the many triple-deckers in that town. We have the party and we play the game on a small television in one of the rooms, and my brother is astonished that we could have a party where people would be OK having an ALCS game playing in the background in a corner. But we did, and the Red Sox got thrashed. Game 3.
That is nearly two decades ago and all of the life that followed feels contained in that fall, that season.
That was the time I decided – not half-assed thought about but really decided decided – that I was going to be a writer. That was the time I started dating the person I married, the person I’ve started a family with. That was a time when I was having lots of deep conversations about how a person should live in the world, and what a meaningful life could look like, and what counted as really good music, and a lot of the answers I have to any of that started there. A lot of what I think of as my life started there.
And there was Ortiz. A player I didn’t think much about until that October, when his turn in the batting order came at one crucial moment and then another and then another. And he kept on hitting.
*            *            *
Baseball sometimes exists on the periphery of my life.
I was in Iowa when the Ortiz Red Sox won in 2007, and I hardly watched baseball games. I was too busy in another life, surrounded by other ambitious people who were trying at same thing I was trying at, most of them doing a better job at it.
I was in New Zealand when they won in 2013. When Ortiz sent Torii Hunter sprawling into the Fenway bullpen trying to chase a grand slam in the 2013 ALCS, I was watching with my son on my lap, sitting at our table in a house on the coast of the North Island.
I watched more baseball in New Zealand than I did in Iowa, or Boston. Somehow, the distance made me care about it more. I would write in the mornings and then tune into the east coast games, which start at 11:00 am in New Zealand. I’d watch the last games in California wrapping up – usually choosing Vin Scully’s Dodgers’ broadcast – as I started making dinner.
Those miles and those years stagger me. I was just starting out into my life when David Ortiz hit a homerun in Game 4 of the ALCS, and that feels like it happened yesterday, and it feels like a lifetime ago. Once I lived with roommates in a triple decker in Somerville and we had a party. Once I drove around Chicago with a kid in the backseat. Once I lived in New Zealand. Once I was young and trying to figure out my life, and once I wasn’t young anymore, and the questions had all changed.
*            *            *
Three. One more.
In the summer I bring my first-born son back to the States for a visit. He is eight or nine months old, and some friends have gotten us tickets to Fenway to catch the Angels. This is 2013, Mike Trout’s second year in the majors and I am obsessed with him and excited to get the chance to see the Mickey Mantle prototype up close.
There is a window of time when you’re a new parent and you think you can do everything still, that your life is still mostly your own, but with caveats. It happens about halfway through that first year, when the whirl and perpetual newness of everything eases and you have a little time to catch your breath, and you think you’re about to turn the corner back to the normal of before. And you do ambitious things like booking twenty-odd hour flights and making plans to go to baseball games in big cities with your infant child. You do this half because it feels important and half because you’re in denial that everything is different now, and the old uncertainties have given way to new uncertainties.
I carry my son. I have a photo of us in the concourse under the stands, me wearing a Pedroia t-shirt and him on my shoulders, staring wide-eyed at the space over us. It’s cool there, but it is noisy, too, and crowded. It is like nothing he has ever experienced before.
I know, even at the time, that he will not remember it. There are whole years in the lives of children that they do not remember at all or will only remember fleetingly, but we remember in the brightest of colors. The first homes where they lived. The old carpets where they took their first steps. The places where our lives became a different kind of life.
I remember the featherweight of his in my arms and on my shoulders. I remember the awkwardness of the stroller we had, and the security guards who allowed us to skip the long lines to enter the park.
We take our seats in the shade along the rightfield line. The friend who had proposed the idea and purchased the tickets asked where we should sit and I had enough foresight to say, ‘anywhere with shade’ and he came through.
During the game Mike Trout hits a few doubles, and he looks every bit the star I think he’ll be, the best player of a generation. I cheer when he gets his first hit and then realize the incongruity of my reaction: I am wearing Boston gear and a Boston hat, and I am cheering for an Angels hitter.
He can’t talk yet, my son. He is an observer of the world, then, and confronted with the overloading senses of a baseball stadium in a big city, there is little allowed him except to witness it. He is quiet throughout all of it, watching.
And there is a moment when the Red Sox, trailing, get a few runners on, and the energy of the park changes. He won’t remember that change, but I think that he senses it when it comes. He understands that something is happening.
Many of us are standing up. I am standing up, and I don’t remember if I am holding him then or if my wife is holding him. It is a bright and clear day and David Ortiz is batting, and we have all been conditioned to this moment. If we knew that Vlad Guerrero was surely going to hit that grand slam because of Boone and Buckner and Bucky Dent, we’ve now learned to expect another story. David Ortiz has given us that.
The noise, when it comes, is too much, of course. It is the loudest noise my son has heard in his life, and it happens as instantly as a switch being thrown. Suddenly the world gains a different and greater volume and there is a surge of life and joy that the old brick and concrete of that old park can hardly hold in.
I look at him and his blue eyes – which have always seemed like they are trying to take in too much of the world – are wider than I’ve ever seen them, and I know that he is frightened I know, too, that he is trying to take in this sudden change to everything and understand it. I know that is it too much, too much. And all I can think to do is put my head close to his until his eyes are on me, and I tell him that it’s okay. It’s all okay. It’s only him. It’s only Ortiz.
David Fleming is a writer living in western Virginia. He welcomes comments, questions, and suggestions here and at 

COMMENTS (9 Comments, most recent shown first)

Lovely memories for you. I'm happy for you. I'm an Angel fan. My love lies bleeding.
9:31 PM Feb 11th
Sir, when you decided decided, you decided good.
2:08 PM Feb 11th
It’s interesting how some players just grab a place in your memories regardless of actual value. Ortiz, of course, was exceptional both in value and capturing the imagination, the kind of player that most of us Yankee fans would shake a fist at while still (sometimes only privately) admiring, like Brett and Edgar.

Though his making it first ballot while Bernie was dropped like a rock is embarrassing. No knock on Ortiz — that’s on the voters.
2:11 PM Feb 9th
Enjoyed this, thanks.
10:10 AM Feb 9th
Thanks, Dave! What a fine piece!

It is a shame how much one does for a child during those first few years that is completely lost to memory. My wife and I traveled around the world for 8 months with my son when he was five. Now he's 16 and his remembrances are little more than a series of ill-focused photographs, curated and altered by time, retelling, and artifacts.
9:16 AM Feb 9th
David, thanks for sharing your moving memories!
1:00 PM Feb 7th
Thanks, Dave.

I really don't know what it all means. But I suspect it matters.
12:58 PM Feb 7th
Great story Dave! Welcome back!
12:56 PM Feb 7th
Oh David.
That was beautiful.
Thank you.
12:05 PM Feb 7th
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