SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic — David Ortiz was flown to Boston for more medical care Monday after the former Red Sox slugger affectionately known as Big Papi was ambushed by a gunman at a bar in his native Dominican Republic, authorities said.
The 43-year-old retired athlete had been in stable condition in intensive care at a Santo Domingo hospital after doctors removed his gallbladder and part of his intestine, according to his spokesman, Leo Lopez. He said Ortiz’s liver was also damaged in the shooting Sunday night.
Ortiz is one of the most beloved figures in sports history in the Dominican Republic and Boston, a fearsome power hitter with a ready smile. He led the Red Sox to three World Series championships, was a 10-time All-Star and hit 541 home runs.
Dozens of fans crowded the hospital earlier Monday, causing a traffic jam. In the U.S., fans prayed for his recovery and wished him well, with New England Patriots star Julian Edelman assuring him on Instagram: "Papi, all of New England has your back."
The Red Sox offered "all available resources" and sent an air ambulance to bring him back to Boston.
"He’s on the Mount Rushmore of Boston sports," said Eddie Romero, the team’s assistant general manager.
Ortiz was at the Dial Bar and Lounge in Santo Domingo on Sunday night when a gunman approached from behind and shot him at close range in the torso, authorities said.
The gunman was not immediately identified or arrested and the motive for the shooting was under investigation, with authorities trying to determine whether Ortiz was the target.
The operator of the motorcycle that was carrying the gunman was captured and beaten by a crowd of people at the bar, authorities said.
Eliezer Salvador, who was at the scene, said the gunman said nothing, just fired once. Salvador then drove a wounded Ortiz to the hospital, telling reporters they had a brief conversation in the car as he urged the baseball great to stay calm and breathe.
"Do you have any problems with anyone?" Salvador recalled asking him, to which Ortiz replied: "No, my brother, I’ve never wronged anyone."
Salvador held up Ortiz’s bloody belongings for reporters, along with some of his jewelry. He also apologized for hitting several cars while rushing to the hospital: "That wrongdoing was justified."
Ortiz’s father, Leo, said he had no idea why someone would have shot at his son.
"He is resting," the elder Ortiz said. "Big Papi will be around for a long time."
He added that he is pleased with the medical attention Ortiz has received but that he will be transferred to Boston so he can be with his wife and the Red Sox medical team.
Two other people were wounded, including Jhoel Lopez, a Dominican TV host who was with Ortiz. Police believe Lopez was wounded by the same bullet, said National Police Director Ney Aldrin Bautista Almonte. Lopez was shot in the leg, and his injuries were not life-threatening, said his wife, Liza Blanco, who is also a TV host.
Police did not identify the third person or detail that person’s injuries.
The bar is in a bustling nightlife district packed with dance clubs and expensive bars that Ortiz is known to frequent.
Chicago White Sox pitcher Ivan Nova, who’s from the Dominican, said the shooting rattled him.
"The way that everything is going right now back in my country, I’ve got to be honest, I’m not very happy to say what is going on right now over there," Nova said. "A lot of times I see guys who play on my team coming to the United States to live. The dream that you have as a baseball player is to have a good career, and then go back home and spend time with your family. Now you’ve got to think about if DR is a safe place for you to be in. It’s a tough situation."
Ortiz, who retired after the 2016 season and lives at least part of the year in the Dominican Republic, is often seen getting his cars washed and hanging out with friends, including other baseball players, artists and entertainers.
The Red Sox retired his number, 34, in 2017, and Boston renamed a bridge and a stretch of road outside Fenway Park in his honour. He maintains a home in Weston, on the outskirts of Boston.
Ortiz galvanized the city in the aftermath of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing that left three people dead, bellowing through a megaphone at Fenway Park: "This is our (expletive) city!"
"In 2013, when we needed David Ortiz the most, he was there for us," Red Sox president and CEO Sam Kennedy said Monday. "Our focus is on his health and on getting him back here for treatment."