Saturday, October 1, 2016
I’ve been so caught up in magic numbers and scoreboard watching, all to make sure the Red Sox get a chance to win one more Championship for Big Papi before he retires, that it hasn’t hit me until just now that we only have a few more chances to see him in action. With the Red Sox on the road for so much of the month, it just didn’t seem possible a few weeks ago that I am now down to just one regular season game. The final home game of the year is included in my 10-game season ticket package, so I’ve known all year that I’d be going to his final regular season game (and I get a playoff game in my package too!). But it wasn’t until this weekend that I realized how close the end is, even if the post-season does extend his career a couple extra weeks. So on the day before Big Papi’s final regular season game, I’m going to look back on my personal favorite David Ortiz moments. Follow the links in each entry for all the details.
February 18, 2003
It was my first trip to Spring Training, and our stay was only a couple of days due to a big storm at home and a cancelled flight. I was thrilled to see my favorites, Nomar and Pedro, but we also made sure to get autographs from the new guys – Ramiro Mendoza, Jeremy Giambi, and David Ortiz. I remember being surprised how big Ortiz was as he stood next to me. Knowing he had come from the Twins, I had assumed he was the scrappy speedster type. I remember having him on my fantasy team on 2002 because the scouting report said that he had “some pop in his bat” and the “potential for 20 homers a year if he gets enough playing time.” He’s certainly shown a bit of pop over the next 14 years! (And I’ve been back to Spring Training every year since.)
September 23, 2003
With their magic number at 4 to clinch a playoff spot, the Sox found themselves down 5-2 to the Orioles heading into the bottom of the ninth. It had been a season full of dramatic, come-from-behind wins, but they hadn’t had one in a while. Todd Walker hit a clutch, two-out, three-run homer to tie the game, and then David Ortiz (the nickname “Big Papi” didn’t come about until the following season) launched a game-winning homer to lead off the tenth. It was the first time I witnessed a walk-off home run in person, and was a highlight in a very exciting week.
October 16, 2004
Why would I pick the night of the Red Sox’ humiliating 19-8 loss in Game 3 of the 2004 ALCS as one of my favorite Big Papi moments? Well, it’s the only post-season game I went to that year. I didn’t get to see his three walk-off hits, but going down 0-3 in the series paved the way for their historic comeback. I read that Ortiz stopped on the way in to Fenway the next day and pulled his car over beneath the billboard with a picture of a smiling, double-pointing Manny Ramirez that said simply, “Keep the Faith.” He thought about the fans he had seen crying and feeling sad after the previous night’s game and told his teammates they needed to win it for the fans. I was way out in right field that night, but I was definitely sad. Papi, of course, went on to win Game 4 and Game 5 with dramatic walk-off hits, and the Red Sox completed the comeback two nights later. You’re welcome!
June 2, 2005
This weekday afternoon game was a makeup of a rainout on another weekday afternoon, which meant I had to use up two vacation days just to see it. My brother drove down from Maine and had to circle for an hour before finding an open parking lot. One of our seats had chewing gum stuck to it. And after all that, at the end of the eighth, the Sox found themselves trailing 4-3. But it was all worth it when Big Papi launched a two-out, three-run walk-off homer to send us home happy.
July 31, 2006
I went to another game in 2005 where Big Papi had a walk-off single, and a game earlier in 2006 in which he had hit a walk-off home run, but one I’ll always remember is the game in July of 2006 when I just knew Papi would win it for us, no matter how badly the first part of the game went. A real back-and-forth rollercoaster game left the Red Sox trailing 8-6 heading into the bottom of the ninth, but I was smiling. When the first two batters reached, I cheered as if we had won the game, because the right number of baserunners were in place for Papi’s at-bat. I had spent the first 31 years of my life as a Red Sox fan having my dreams dashed and conditioned to expect the worst, so to reach the point where I could be this confident and happy was a huge accomplishment, and for that I have Papi to thank. And yes, he launched a blast into the center field stands and we chanted “M-V-P” all the way back to the T station.
September 20 – 21, 2006
The Red Sox missed the playoffs in 2006 for the first time in the past four years, so the end of the season became all about Big Papi’s quest to break the Red Sox’ all-time home run record of 50, set by Jimmie Foxx in 1938. I was in the bleachers on September 20, when he hit #50, and I was back the next night when he drilled numbers 51 and 52 to take the lead.
February 27 – 28, 2007
I’ve been going to Spring Training every year since Papi’s first season with the Red Sox, and 2007 was a particularly fruitful one. On the last day of workouts, I happened to be in the right place at the right time to get him to autograph a picture of me with the 2004 trophy. He even commented, “Wow, you got your picture with that.” The next day was my father’s birthday, and the first Spring Training game of the year. Our seats were right on the end of the row in left field. While my mother and I were waiting near the dugout during batting practice, a foul ball bounced in to the seats, right to my father. After a few at-bats, Papi came out of the game and jogged along the warning track. As he approached our seats, we helped call him over, and my father told him it was his birthday and got him to sign the ball.
May 20, 2009
My favorite player started 2009 in an epic slump, and by May 20 he still hadn’t homered. So when he launched one toward the camera stand in straightaway center, right where I was sitting, I helped will it over the wall (along with 35,000 or so of my closest friends). The guy directly in front of me ran into the camera well and wound up with the ball. We gave Big Papi a long ovation, and made him come back out for a curtain call. Then for the rest of the game, people kept climbing past me to take their picture with the ball, which the guy in front of me proudly displayed.
August 26, 2009
It was the perfect night at Fenway – not too hot, not too cold, not raining. Before the game, I got my picture taken with young pitcher Clay Buchholz. In the fifth inning, my name was on the scoreboard as one of the randomly-selected Red Sox Nation members being welcomed. Tim Wakefield pitched seven strong innings and left with a one-run lead. The only thing that went wrong was when the bullpen blew the lead, and the Sox headed into the bottom of the ninth tied. Papi had cooled off from his record-setting seasons a few years ago, but we chanted for him just like old times. And we were rewarded, when he sent one down the right field line that hooked fair for the walk-off homer, his first since 2007.
November 18, 2009
A couple of co-workers wanted to go out to eat after work, and I convinced them to go to Big Papi’s Grille in Framingham (a restaurant that has since closed) because it happened to be Ortiz’s birthday. I assured them I didn’t actually think that he would be there, just that it would help me get my baseball fix after a disappointing end to the season. But right after we ordered, in came the birthday boy and his family, and they sat at a table diagonally across from us. Like every good diehard, I just happened to have an Ortiz hat in my car and a Sharpie in my purse. After dinner, as he left, we shook his hand and I thinked him for 2004 and 2007, and he signed (and personalized!) my hat.
February 24, 2011
The next Ortiz moment on my list is dedicated to D’Angelo, David’s son, who was six in the spring of 2011. At one of the workouts, he was dressed in full uniform and followed his father from field to field, participating in all the different drills. And just like his father, everyone was drawn to him. The fans all flocked to him, and the other players jumped right in and included him in whatever they were doing. Some fans from the Dominican were standing next to me during batting practice, and they started chatting with D’Angelo, eventually convincing him to call his Papi over for a few autographs. He only signed a couple, but one was mine – a picture of me with the 2004 and 2007 trophies on which I’ve been trying to get signatures of everyone on the ‘07 team.
October 24, 2013
Game 2 of the 2013 World Series doesn’t make the list because of the result, but because it was the first World Series game I’ve ever attended. It gave me chills throughout the game whenever I realized that I was really at the World Series, never more so than when post-season artist David Ortiz homered in the sixth inning to give the Red Sox a 2-1 lead. While the lead didn’t hold up in this particular game, Papi went on to hit .688 in the Series and earn the MVP.
May 22, 2016
I’ve been watching Papi do Papi things for 14 years, but what’s most impressive is that he hasn’t slowed down. This year has been one of his most productive, as he’s leading the league in slugging percentage, doubles, RBI, intentional walks, and extra-base hits going into the final game of the season. And one of the games that demonstrated his dominance was on a Sunday afternoon in May. He hit an RBI single in the first, drove in another with a ground-rule double in the second, clubbed the 514th home run of his career in the fifth, and was intentionally walked in the sixth. That meant that when he came to bat in the bottom of the eighth he needed a triple for the cycle. Knowing that the only way he could hit a triple at Fenway Park was if it landed in the “triangle” in the deepest part of center field, he did exactly that. It hit the dirt, bounced off the back wall, and then took an unfortunate bounce, just barely clearing the fence for a ground-rule double, and inches away from staying in the park for a triple. I was bummed that he missed it by inches, but completely in awe of the fact that he had come so close just by deciding that that was where he wanted to hit it.
Sunday, July 3, 2016 – Fenway Park, Section 42
Red Sox 10, Angels 5
After a personal 5-0 record in May games, I went a dismal 0-5 in June, so I was happy to turn the figurative page to July. But mostly I was happy that I didn’t have a ticket to Saturday night’s game, a brutal 21-2 loss in the middle game of a series with the last-place Angels. As awful as things seemed at the end of that game, the sun rose on Sunday morning after all, and I made it in to Fenway early on a bright, sunny day. Neither team took batting practice, as per usual on a Sunday morning, but some infielders were fielding grounders and a couple of pitchers were throwing long-toss in the outfield. Steven Wright was throwing a bullpen session between his starts.
Red Sox pitching was so battered on Saturday night that outfielder Ryan LaMarre had to pitch the ninth inning. (And he was the only pitcher who didn’t allow a run.) They were going to need a good start today if they wanted to take the rubber game of the series. Journeyman Sean O’Sullivan had made a couple of starts earlier in the year, and was called up for this start after Eduardo Rodriguez was sent down.
O’Sullivan was up to the task. He pitched five strong innings, something that the others in the rotation had struggled to do in the month of June. It turns out that his initials S. O’S. might stand for Save Our Season.
It was hot in the bleachers and with every seat full there was no breeze. I was fine as long as my water bottle held up, but the game was slow-paced and I needed to refill it at the end of the fourth. Rather than climbing all the way back to my bleacher seat, I opted to go to the standing room area behind the right field grandstand. I found an empty space there, and while the view wasn’t as good, it was cooler and there was a nice breeze. And better still, it turned out to be a lucky spot when the Sox scored seven runs in the bottom of the fifth.
(It got a little scary, though, when Matt Barnes and Junichi Tazawa let the Angels score five runs in the sixth and seventh.) During the seventh inning stretch I moved around from the right field standing room to a vacated row in the loge boxes on the third base (shady) side of home plate. I don’t normally like to sit behind the netting because it’s hard to take pictures, but I do like to get different perspectives. The view certainly is great there, and I found that the manual focus setting on my camera helped.
The win was personally satisfying because I hadn’t seen them win in person since May, plus it was a nice way to bounce back from the horror of the night before. At the half-way point in the season, they have 44 wins, and when Baltimore’s loss went final a couple of hours later, the Sox stood in second place, 3 games back. It’s up to the pitchers to step up and save the season, but it’s definitely possible to get Big Papi back to the postseason one last time.
Saturday, June 25, 2016 – Hadlock Field, Portland
Fightin’ Phils 8, Sea Dogs 3
While the Red Sox were on the road in Texas, I made my annual trip to Portland to see the Double A Sea Dogs. Late June seemed to be the perfect time – top prospects Andrew Benintendi and Yoan Moncada had both been promoted earlier in the month after tearing it up in Single A, and yet it was early enough that the best players hadn’t been called up to Pawtucket yet. Not only that, but it was a perfect sunny day, unlike the rainy, foggy nights we’ve had in past years.
It turned out that Yoan Moncada was not in the lineup, but we would get to see Benintendi bat third and play center field. He’s the number 3 prospect in the whole organization, and he’s one I’m following closely, not just because of his rapid ascent from the first round of the 2015 draft to playing in Double A just a year later, but because I got an autograph and a picture with him in Spring Training this year.
Unfortunately the game got off to a start that was a little too familiar for Red Sox fans in the past few weeks. Teddy Stankiewicz gave up a walk and a home run to the first two batters, then gave up another run before getting pulled with two outs and two on in the first. Ben Taylor did a good job getting out of the inning and then pitched three more, but the Sea Dogs were already in a hole.
In the end, the game was too much like some of the Major Lague Red Sox’ games of the recent past. They fell behind in the first, started to climb back in the middle innings, and then had the bullpen give up a bunch more late. But it was a perfect night for baseball, and a good chance to see some of the team’s best prospects.
Tuesday, May 24, 2016 – Fenway Park, Section 40
Red Sox 8, Rockies 3
The Colorado Rockies were the next victims for the Red Sox, who have their offense working at Fenway as if they were in the thin air of mile-high Coors Field. They jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first, then added two more in the second. And Jackie Bradley Jr. wasted no time knocking the first pitch of his first at-bat off the Green Monster to extend his hitting streak to 28 games. My favorite pictures from the game are below.
Not only does Xander deserve to go to the All-Star Game this year, but a bunch of his teammates should join him. Balloting is all online this year, and it’s already started, so don’t wait until the final days to vote. Vote 5 times a day, up to 35 votes per mlb.com account, at this link. #EveryoneForASG
This is something we won’t be seeing much of in the future. Not just because Big Papi’s retiring, but because the intentional walk may go away with him. There’s a proposed rule change to just let the pitcher signal that he wants to walk the batter without actually throwing the pitches, supposedly to speed up the game. I hate this idea! The argument I hear most often is that there’s a chance that the ball gets away from the catcher and the runners could advance. But my biggest objection is that it won’t take a toll on the pitcher’s pitch count. One of the biggest strengths of the Red Sox offense of the past decade-plus has been the ability to drive up the starter’s pitch count, get him out of the game sooner, and face more middle relievers. If a pitcher wants to skip a certain batter, he needs to pay a price, not keep his arm fresh for facing someone else later. And how much time would that really save anyway? Why is two extra minutes so awful? Isn’t the rhythm and cadence of baseball what we all fell in love with in the first place? (Plus watching those four pitches gives us extra time to boo!)
Another fun win was in the books, and the only downside was that no Red Sox players homered for the first time in the last 23 games. The 22-game homer streak set a new franchise record, and you can watch a montage of all the homers during the streak on youtube.
Sunday, May 22, 2016 – Fenway Park, Section 42
Red Sox 5, Indians 2
When weather people on TV give the temperature and then say what it “feels like” to account for the heat index or wind chill, there really should be a third category – Fenway bleachers. As in, “The game time temperature is 59, with the humidity it feels like 65, but in the bleachers it’s 78.” That’s how this game was. The forecast had called for a high of 57 and rain, and since I was half-way back in the bleachers I had a long-sleeved shirt under my T-shirt plus a warm coat in case I got soaked. There was a light mist during batting practice, but that was it. I changed from the long-sleeved shirt into the T-shirt before the game started, and before long the sun came out and I was wishing I had shorts. People in the rest of the park had long sleeves and jackets, but the bleachers are a totally different climate!
Rick Porcello labored a bit in the second when he needed 33 pitches and gave up 2 runs. But he recovered nicely after that, and ended up going 5-2/3 without allowing anything else. And that was nothing compared to Cleveland’s Danny Salazar, who threw 40 pitches in the first and 29 more in the second. The first two innings lasted an hour and ten minutes and saw a combined 125 pitches, with the Sox leading 3-2.
Big Papi came up again in the bottom of the eighth. With a single, a double, and a homer (plus a walk) already in the game, we all knew he needed a triple to complete the cycle. As he strode to the plate, I remembered how he had just hit one the previous weekend (in the ninth to tie last Saturday’s game). That hit had gone into “the triangle” in the deepest part of center field and bounced around. If he wanted to hit one now, that’s what he was going to have to do again.
He worked a 3-1 count, as he always seems to do, and then he launched one. I couldn’t believe it, but it was heading right for the triangle! It went over the center fielder’s head and hit the warning track in front of the 420-foot marker, then bounced and hit off the top of the padding on the wall. I took my eye off it to watch him run – he was halfway to second and going full steam – when I saw him stop. The ball had gone to the exact place he needed it to, but it had taken an unfavorable bounce off the padding on the wall and (just barely) cleared the fence, landing in the stands for a ground-rule double. A few inches difference would have kept it in the park, and he would have made it easily into third. We gave him a nice ovation for the effort and laughed as he stood on second miming a running motion like he was ready to keep going.
[Note: I've been keeping score at games for 16 years, and while my notation for recording plays hasn't changed, I noticed that my scorecards have evolved with the times... because I now use emoticons. My note for this play was "Bounced into stands :( He totally would have made it."]
I don’t think I’ve ever been more bummed out by a double hit by someone on my team. But thinking about it after the game put it in a new perspective. He knew that for him to get a triple there was really only one place he could put it, and that’s exactly where he put it! How does he do that, time after time after time? It’s brilliant really, and why he’s (tied with Pedro as) my all-time favorite player.
May 12, 2016 – Fenway Park, Section 43
Red Sox 11, Astros 1
The big story before the game was that Dustin Pedroia had spotted something in David Price’s delivery while watching videos of his past at-bats against left-handed pitchers. Price wasn’t bringing his hands and leg up as high this season. The pitcher concurred, said that could help explain the drop in his velocity this year, and vowed to fix his mechanics before his next start. Today we would find out if Pedey should double as a pitching coach in addition to his duties at second base.
It ended up a fun night as the Red Sox cruised to an 11-1 win. Xander Bogaerts put them up early with a homer in the first, and Mookie Betts put the game out of reach with a three-run blast in the sixth. It was the fourth straight game in which they had scored 11 or more runs.
Monday, May 9, 2016 – Fenway Park, Section 30
Red Sox 14, A’s 7
May 9 is what I like to call my “Fenniversary” – the anniversary of my first game at Fenway, 29 years ago in 1987. Since I was in the park again on that date, I decided to start by heading out to the same seat I was in that day (Section 8, row TT) and take some pictures from the same angle. I originally planned to take a couple of quick pics and then head to my real seat, but the sun was directly in my eyes when I got there so I had to wait a while for it to sink behind the third base stands. The lighting is different right before sunset than during an afternoon game, but otherwise I think I got them right. (They’re black and white because that’s what I had in my 110 camera for a school project at the time.)
It was Star Wars Day at Fenway (they played on the road on May 4th, which is the traditional day) and they played the following video before the game, starting with “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”
Since I had waited for the sun to set to take my pictures, I was still out in Section 8 in right field when the game started. Usually I don’t like to get up while an inning is in progress, but with Clay Buchholz pitching so slowly, I couldn’t wait till the inning break. He walked the first batter on a full count, and then when he threw ball 2 to the second batter I got up. As I walked around behind the back row of the grandstand, the second batter doubled, driving in a run, and then the third batter grounded out. By the time the fourth batter flied out on a 3-1 count, I was in my seat, meaning that I was able to go all the way from Section 8 near Pesky’s Pole to Section 30 in left field and only miss one at-bat!
Buchholz’s pace was an indication that this would not be an early night. But by the time he exited at the end of the fifth, the game was going long for an entirely different reason. The Red Sox offense turned a 4-1 deficit into a 7-4 lead with a 6-run fourth inning and never looked back. When they’re scoring like that, I’ll sit there happily all night!
Sunday, May 1, 2016 – Fenway Park, Section 2
Red Sox 8, Yankees 7
The Red Sox came into Sunday Night Baseball having beaten the Yankees on Friday and Saturday. They started the day half a game behind the Orioles for first place in the East, while the Yankees sat in the basement, five games back. The Orioles had already lost their afternoon game, so a win tonight would not only complete the sweep but put the Sox in first place.
It was cold enough to see my breath and raining steadily, so I didn’t go out to my bleacher seat. I stayed in the standing room in the back of the grandstand in Section 2 in right field, eventually moving into an empty seat at the end of the fourth.
In the bottom of the third, the Sox put together four singles and a walk to score three more runs and retake the lead, 4-3. Then in the fifth Price gave up three more runs, putting them down 6-4. But the Red Sox continued to rally. Travis Shaw’s two-run homer in the fifth tied the game at 6-6. The rain stopped around that time, and during the seventh inning stretch I made my move to some vacated box seats behind third base.
I had just settled into my new seat, with the game tied 6-6, when Travis Shaw reached on a single. He was replaced by Brock Holt on a fielder’s choice and then the Yankees went to the ‘pen to bring in their relief ace, Dellin Betances. His first pitch to Christian Vazquez was launched way over the Green Monster, giving the Sox an 8-6 lead.
There was still the matter of holding the lead for the next two innings, and although the Yankees did score one against Koji Uehara in the eighth, Craig Kimbrel nailed it down in the ninth to preserve the win. The Red Sox completed the sweep and moved into sole possession of first place, while the Yankees moved further into the basement where they belong. Life is good!
Saturday, April 30, 2016 – Fenway Park
VIP Tour and Player Meet & Greet
As a season ticket holder, I get rewards points for scanning my tickets at games and entering code words throughout the season. One thing we can use the points for is to enter raffles, and I won one for a player meet and greet event that included a VIP tour of Fenway Park. The experience is also part of packages sold through Red Sox Destinations, and the season ticket holder raffle winners got to join in. We also got a a “David Ortiz final season” cap, a baseball and display case, and a free pair of Red Sox sneakers from Row One Brands as part of our prize pack.
Our day started with a tour of Fenway Park. Remember that scene from “Forrest Gump” when he says he got invited to the White House again, and met the President of the United States again? That’s how we felt sitting in the Green Monster seats and stepping onto the warning track. As a season ticket holder, I can enter early and go up on the Green Monster before every game, and there have been plenty of open houses and other events where we’ve walked around the warning track before. But what made this tour a one-of-a-kind special event is that we actually got to go inside the Green Monster, where the scoreboard operator posts the score during games! As a lifelong fan, that’s something that’s always been on my baseball bucket list. (We were asked not to sign our names, so I still have something to aspire to when I someday go in there again.)
After everyone had had a chance to go inside the Green Monster, we sat in the grandstand seats and listened to the tour guides give a history of Fenway Park. There was a game later that night, but for now, the grounds crew was out mowing the grass and getting the infield ready. I spotted head groundskeeper David Mellor and his dog Drago (named after former Red Sox pitcher Dick Drago, I assume), whom I recognized from his Instagram account.
Next we walked down the fifth floor hallway past the radio and TV booths and the media cafeteria, and into the press box.
Our last stop was the EMC Club, where we had a buffet lunch (hot dogs, chicken, pulled pork, salad, corn on the cob, potato salad, watermelon, cookies, and brownies). Then we got to meet left fielder Brock Holt and get autographs and pictures with him. There was a Q & A session, too, where people asked hard-hitting questions like what would you do if you didn’t play baseball (country singer), do you have any superstitions (no), and what’s your favorite position to play (anything but second because it means Dustin Pedroia is out).
Last up was a visit from Dick Flavin, the Boston humorist who serves as Fenway P. A. announcer during day games and the Poet Laureate of the Red Sox. He recited several of his poems for us, some of which I had heard before, and some of which I hadn’t. Here’s a video with two of my favorites, “Long Live Fenway Park,” written for its hundredth anniversary in 2012 and “Big Papi’s Bombs,” written in 2013.
Flavin has published a book with poems he’s written on the Red Sox – Red Sox Rhymes: Curses and Verses – and he autographed copies for people who bought them that day. You can get your copy on Amazon.
Monday, April 11, 2016 – Fenway Park, Section 30
Orioles 9, Red Sox 7
Opening Day – the “real” one, at home – is my favorite day of the year. This year it reminded me of a scene in the lastest Star Wars movie:
My favorite pictures from the day follow:
Although the Red Sox jumped out to a 3-0 lead, David Price gave up five runs in five innings, but his teammates kept rallying to tie it 5-5 and 6-6. The shocker came when fireballing new closer Craig Kimbrel walked two and then gave up a three-run homer to Chris Davis in the ninth. The Sox staged one final rally in the bottom of the ninth and got the tying run on base, before ultimately falling short.