BOSTON — David Ortiz helped his adopted city recover from the Boston Marathon bombings. And now the Red Sox are calling on their fans to reciprocate for their beloved Big Papi.
"We all remember in 2013 when we needed David Ortiz the most, he was there for us," team president Sam Kennedy said Monday, a day after the longtime slugger was wounded in a nightclub shooting in his native Dominican Republic. "So it’s appropriate and expected that his community would rally behind David when he needs us most."
The 43-year-old Ortiz was shot once in the torso on Sunday night in what appeared to be a targeted attack at a Santo Domingo nightclub. Dominican police there did not immediately identify or arrest the gunman; the motive was under investigation.
"I didn’t sleep very well last night," said Red Sox special assistant Jason Varitek, who was Ortiz’s teammate for nearly a decade. "I don’t think anybody did."
The shooting occurred during Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final and stole the city’s attention from the Bruins victory as fans and former teammates stayed up into the morning searching for information on Ortiz’s condition. Longtime rivals turned to social media to offer their best wishes; former Dominican president Leonel Fernandez visited him in the hospital.
"It shocked us to the core," Kennedy said. "It was jarring, stunning and, frankly, terrifying. It was a horrific incident. Our focus right now is exclusively to focus on his health and well-being (and) to get David back here in Boston."
The Red Sox sent an air ambulance to the Dominican Republic to transport Ortiz to Boston, where he will continue his treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital. The plane landed Monday night while the Red Sox playing Texas.
The team asked fans to observe a moment of reflection shortly before its game against the Rangers at Fenway Park and posted on the videoboard: "We send our love to David Ortiz." In the sixth inning, fans broke out into cheers of "Papi!" and cheered when pictures of fans in his No. 34 jersey were shown on the scoreboard.
"I just hope when he gets here that everything is fine, and we can see the big man here again with us and filling our room with joy," manager Alex Cora told reporters earlier. "He’s bigger than life."
A 10-time All-Star and the Most Valuable Player of the 2013 World Series, Ortiz was one of the most productive — and popular — players in Red Sox history. He led the once-cursed franchise to three championships, and retired in 2016 with a career total of 541 home runs that is 17th-most in baseball history.
"Somebody just asked me what my favourite memory was. And it’s not all the home runs and game winning-hits that he’s had, and the World Series," Red Sox pitcher Rick Porcello said. "It’s how he embraces everyone in a room. Just that imposing, loving figure that makes everyone feel special. That’s something that you don’t see a lot. That’s what separates him, for me."
Ortiz further endeared himself to the local fans when he went to the Fenway Park mound after the attacks at the marathon finish line and proclaimed, "This is our (expletive) city!"
The slugger’s words reached all the way to the White House.
"Six years ago, David Ortiz’s spirit and resolve helped us all begin to heal from the Boston Marathon bombing," former President Barack Obama said in a tweet on Monday. "Today, I want to join many others in wishing him a speedy recovery of his own. Get well soon, Papi."
Longtime New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, who is now a Miami Marlins investor, also wished Ortiz a speedy recovery.
"Everyone knows what he was able to do on the field," Jeter said. "What he has meant to the community — not only in Boston, but in the Dominican — this is a guy who is beloved throughout the sport and throughout sports in general."
The Red Sox retired Ortiz’s No. 34 in 2017, less than a year after he retired, and a street outside the ballpark was renamed in his honour. He remains connected with the ballclub in a special role that includes mentoring current players, recruiting free agents and making special appearances.
"He’s Boston, more or less," said Glen Cantone, who attended Monday night’s game against the Rangers wearing an Ortiz jersey with a 2016 All-Star Game patch. "That’s why everybody loves him."
And he was perhaps even more beloved back home.
"He’s obviously an icon on the Mount Rushmore in the city of Boston athletes, but he is the guy in the Dominican Republic," Red Sox assistant general manager Eddie Romero said. "He’s more famous than any president. When people think of the Dominican Republic, they think David Ortiz, they think of Pedro Martinez."
Mets second baseman Robinson Cano, a fellow Dominican, agreed.
"He’s an idol for all of us," he said.