How 24 hours helped define Boston's relationship with David Ortiz

Rob Bradford
June 11, 2019 - 12:17 am

There are reports. There are rumors. There are whispers. There are videos. There are headlines.

That is and will be the reality of this story. When a national hero and sports icon gets shot in the manner David Ortiz did Sunday night people yearn for answers. They're coming, I would imagine.

But for now, what we should remember are the 24 hours that offered a reminder of exactly how unique a figure we are dealing with. This was not a normal day and it was primarily because this was not a normal subject. From the wee hours of the morning in a Dominican Republic operating room to the ambulance ride to the confines of Massachusetts General Hospital a full day later, this was a collective scream telling the world why our f*****g city doesn't forget just because the uniform is off.

Ortiz has meant that much. He was flat-out the most impactful player in Red Sox history, and then some.

There was a reason more eyes were on the flashing lights down the street from Fenway Park rather than the actual baseball game being played this night. The late-inning drama between the Red Sox and Rangers had no chance. Ortiz was back in town.

Perhaps we truly didn't realize the relationship between Ortiz and this city, the organization and the players still playing before these 24 hours. That might seem hard to believe, but it also seems to be a very real thing.

The first hint of that would be the conversation leading up to late afternoon. The Bruins should have been the talk of the town. They had just earned the right to play one game for a Stanley Cup championship. But nope. Callers wanted to call. Talkers wanted to talk. And it was a whole lot more about Ortiz than the hockey team. Cameras were focused on the airport runways, with none of them pointed at flights landing from St. Louis. 

All reporting hands on deck were sent to Santo Domingo, Logan Airport and Fenway Park.

Then there was emotion in and around 4 Jersey St. Turn any corner and you could hear the conversations buzzing about what happened down in the Dominican Republic. Talk to anybody associated with the Red Sox and some sentence would be accompanied by a cracked voice or moist eye. 

Life in these parts were put on hold.

Street names. Bridge dedications. Number retiring. As it turns out, nobody truly knew how important Ortiz was until these 24 hours. The voices in the Red Sox clubhouse after their loss only reiterated that notion.

"At one point … when they came back and we had a chance to win the game, I was like, ‘This is kind of like what David used to do.’ It’s one of those days, when you’re involved in the game, you forget about it," said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. "Andy (Barkett) told me the last inning that he’s here, that he got to the airport. But it’s one of those days that you don’t want to be a part of, honestly, on a personal note. But we have a job to do. The guys grinded it out. They played hard. It doesn’t matter. We didn’t win."

"I felt it a little bit," said the Red Sox' starting pitcher Monday night Chris Sale. "You're talking about a guy who’s put a team and a city on his back basically his entire career and you want be able to be able to pick him up when you can. Obviously we’re thinking about him. We had a meeting before the game about it. He’s as much a part of this team as anyone has ever been. Yesterday was a tough day and today too. we’re obviously glad he’s doing well and he’s back here and in good hands. So we’re just hoping for the best and try to get some wins for him. I know that would make him happy that’s for sure."

"It’s definitely tough," Matt Barnes said. "We understand we have a job to do and to go out there and win ballgames. He’s always going to be with us and be part of it – good, bad or indifferent. Unfortunately, this is one of those situations where the only thing you can do – there’s not much we can do – to help right now except stay positive for him and his family."

Why has Ortiz elicited this reaction?

Go down the list. Great player. Powerful voice. Charitable presence. Welcoming superstar. Take your pick. But it is the concoction that made up the man which most likely prioritized the prayers and police escorts.

Twenty four hours? It was the time it took for the relationship between a city and its hero to be unexpectedly defined.