Just a Bit Outside with Sam Stockton '19

| 10/10/16 12:02am

I get it. Vin Scully is really good at announcing baseball games. He tells anecdotes that make the game come alive. He’s been with the Los Angeles Dodgers forever, or at least since 1950 when the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn. That’s all well and good, but I didn’t grow up in Los Angeles, and I’ve never once listened to a Dodger game on the radio. I was at the game last summer, when Scully announced he’d be back for a 67th and final season, but I have to say it didn’t have much of an effect on me. Scully didn’t play any role in my baseball experience as I got into the sport, so while I respect his undoubtedly remarkable career, his retirement will not affect me or my love for baseball.

I didn’t grow up in Boston either, but David Ortiz was very much a part of my baseball imagination as a boy. First, it was the comeback in 2004. Those curse-busting Boston Red Sox, like the New Orleans Saints after Katrina or this year’s Chicago Cubs, were one of those teams you couldn’t help but root for. They were a bunch of scrappy underdogs with 86 years worth of monkeys on their backs taking on the big bad New York Yankees. Then, the Sox fell behind 0-3 in the American League Championship Series, having been embarrassed in a Game 3 loss at Fenway. After a ninth-inning comeback against the seemingly infallible Mariano Rivera, Ortiz launched a walk-off homer in the bottom of the 12th, breathing new life into the Sox. The very next night, he hit another walk-off in the bottom of the 14th. He would add a homer in the Game 7 clincher to help send the Red Sox to the World Series. A sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals later, and the Sox were World Series champs.

I distinctly remember waking up every morning and reading about Ortiz’s exploits from the night before in the paper and watching the highlights on SportsCenter. My mom wouldn’t let me stay up to watch the games live, so I would hustle downstairs to beat my brother to the sports section of The Washington Post to see how the Sox fared. Each morning, I couldn’t believe what I’d read. How could Ortiz keep doing this? People forget that it was an Ortiz walk-off home run against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim that sent the Sox to the ALCS in the first place. Night after night in the ’04 playoffs, the man the Red Sox fans affectionately called Big Papi would put the Sox on his back. No matter how bleak things got, Boston could always count on Ortiz to come up with a mammoth hit in a big moment.

There is one other Ortiz moment that really stands out for me — his pregame ceremony speech in April of 2013. With the city of Boston reeling on the heels of the horrific act of terrorism at the Boston Marathon, Ortiz addressed the crowd at Fenway before the Sox’s first game after the tragedy. Although Ortiz is a proud native of Santo Domingo, the capital city in the Dominican Republic, he boldly declared before a packed crowd and a field of New York’s finest that the city belongs to them. He was a unifying force in a city that had been devastated. In October, his late-game heroics carried the Sox to a third World Series championship during the Ortiz era in Boston.

Even for someone with no connection to the city of Boston, it was incredible to watch. How many people can you say carried a city dealing with heartbreak on two separate occasions? In 2004, Ortiz brought a World Series to a city that was starving for one, a city that had dealt with Bucky Dent in ’78, Bill Buckner in ’86 and Aaron Boone in ’03. In 2013, Boston was recovering from something that ran far deeper than a baseball diamond, but again, it was Ortiz who carried his team to a title that helped his beloved, adopted hometown recover.

As I write this, the Sox are in an 0-2 hole against the Cleveland Indians in the ALDS, trying to fend off elimination. If they lose one of their next three, Ortiz’s Hall-of-Fame career will be over. I would never count out the Sox, a team led by Ortiz and bolstered by young stars like MVP-candidate Mookie Betts and phenom Andrew Benintendi.

However, no matter what the team’s ultimate fate in the 2016 playoffs, some game this October, or maybe early November, will be Ortiz’s last. I doubt there is one baseball fan, except maybe a Yankees fan, who won’t be sad to see Ortiz walk off the field for the last time.

I’d like to be clear that I mean no disrespect to Scully. There is no doubt in my mind that he had as big an impact on many people as Ortiz did for me. He will long be remembered among the greatest commentators in sports history, but he is one of two legendary figures in the game to call it quits after the 2016 season, and, for me, it will be much harder to forget Ortiz than Scully. Ortiz had an impact on the way I experience baseball growing up that Scully could never touch.