Sometime this Spring, at Portsmouth Abbey or Pepin Field or Cranston Stadium, my wife Rachel turned to me and said “Hey, let’s go to a Red Sox game this year.” With the hundreds of baseball game options here in Rhode Island all Spring, Summer, and Fall I suppose I put going to a Boston Red Sox game on the back burner for the past few years. I have been to 2 concerts (Foo Fighters, Maroon 5) and have participated in 2 Run to Home Base events at Fenway in recent years, but no games. In fact, it had been 7 years since I went to Red Sox game at Fenway. And the last night game I attended was Game 2 of the 2013 World Series. Of course I answered “Heck Yeah!” So, with all the build up and anticipation of going to a game this Summer, the next question from Rachel was “Who do you want to go see?”
This was a tougher question to answer. Having attended Red Sox vs Yankees not only in the Bronx but at Fenway Park, a Yanks vs Sox event is like no other. What about superstars in the game right now, who would I see? Well, Trout, Ohtani play for the Angels, maybe Red Sox vs. Angels. Or the up and coming Blue Jays with Springer, Guerrero, Jr., and Bichette? How about the Astros with local star Jeremy Pena at shortstop? How about an interleague game against the Braves or Mets or Dodgers? Or maybe a Twins game to see manager and RI native Rocco Baldelli? The wheels were spinning out of control in my head with this question. “How about David Ortiz Hall of Fame Pin night, would that work?” asked Rachel. Suddenly, the wheel stopped. “Cool, it’s settled.” And July 26th was circled on my baseball calendar. Red Sox vs Guardians, David Ortiz HOF Promotion Night, featuring a pin given out to several thousand lucky fans.
After securing the night off and tickets from a friend, the excitement of going to a Red Sox game was building week after week in July. Also happening throughout the month of July was the build up of Boston Red Sox hero David Ortiz and his induction ceremony into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. On Sunday, July 24th Ortiz along with 6 other players received their Hall of Fame plaques (several posthumously and received by a family/player representative). Ortiz gave an impassioned speech about his playing days, his opportunities coming out of the Dominican Republic, and his wonderfully awesome time with the Boston Red Sox. Oh cool, I thought, we picked a really good game, I mean Rachel picked a really good game for us to go to. Ortiz just had an amazing weekend in Cooperstown and now we are going to get a pin on Tuesday night (the 26th). This should be fun, I thought.
Monday the 25th, the rumors starting circulating on radio about a possible ceremony and event happening on the David Ortiz HOF pin promotional night. By Tuesday morning, the rumors were no longer fictional, they were real. Ortiz would be honored before the game with a pre-game ceremony, the ones where the Boston Red Sox have excelled and overwhelmed fans in the stands with celebrities, sports icons, and Red Sox legends showing up. On the car ride up to Boston and my go to parking spot near the Prudential Building in Boston, local radio shows were touting a big time ceremony honoring Ortiz and teased who they thought might show up. Tom Brady? Yaz? Bill Russell? The Pope? Who is going to be in the house tonight to celebrate David’s Hall of Fame induction? Focus, focus, focus – Boston traffic is not Post Road in North Kingstown…
After collecting our David Ortiz Hall of Fame pins, Rachel and I made our way through the concession stands and beer gardens and souvenir shops of Fenway Park to where our seats were. Along the way, I noticed a new (well new for me) display on the walls entitled “Women of Baseball,” which featured prominent women – coaches, broadcasters, management, ownership – associated with the Boston Red Sox. Very cool to see that displayed and I snapped a photo of Rhode Island’s Raquel Ferreira.
So, here we are staring at Fenway Park getting ready for a big time celebration of one of its best players on a random Tuesday night. And the skies were blue and the sun was shining brightly and the humidity had left New England and the grin on my face was ear to ear. I can’t say it enough – the Boston Red Sox know how to celebrate their heroes, the fan’s heroes, the pre-game events they do are just incredible. As I sat down, I just took it all in looking left, looking right, looking out to the Green Monster, looking over at the dugouts for any signs of any of my heroes. What a moment, what an experience.
Terry Francona walked out of the Guardians dugout and walked over to a set of chairs on the first base line. He was greeted, coming out of the Red Sox dugout, by John Farrell, Theo Epstein, and the current ownership and management group of the Red Sox. Then, family members of David Ortiz made their way over to the third base line set of chairs. Then, the tributes started. The Ortiz highlight reel could have lasted 5 hours and no one would have cared (except the Guardians maybe). Big Papi hit after hit, clutch homer after clutch homer, celebration after celebration. Fans in the outfield grass would unveil a different World Series banner year after each set of highlights. 2004, then 2007, then 2013. Each banner unfurled generated a louder set of cheers. The sound was deafening and I did my part to make sure David knew how much he meant to me and Red Sox Nation!
Then came the stars, the mega stars, and the one (well he wore #8) I had hoped so desperately to see one more time in person. Trot Nixon, Tim Wakefield, Manager Alex Cora, Xander Bogaerts, amongst others to celebrate as his teammates. Pedro Martinez and Vladimir Guerrero as teammates and DR countrymen. Jim Rice and there he was, my childhood idol, Yaz. I just kept saying in my head Rachel’s question, “Oh, how about David Ortiz Pin night?” I was on Cloud 8, I mean Cloud 9.
They all walked out and waved to the crowd and stood behind and around the podium for the guest of honor, who came out in typical David Ortiz fashion. Big smile, big attitude, big personality, waving and cheering and hugging players and just being Big Papi. One of the greatest Boston sports players and perhaps its biggest personality, Ortiz did not disappoint. He hopped up to the podium and gave another classic Ortiz speech. He thanked his family, his kids, his coaches, his teammates, and saved a majority of the speech to thank the fans. He paused several times to let the fans shower him with huge standing ovations. His #34 and HOF plaque behind him alongside a table of World Series trophies, David Ortiz was enough entertainment for the price of admission. I can’t honestly tell you how long the pre-game ceremony went. It was just that good.
Jason Varitek hopped out of the Boston Red Sox dugout and headed over to his familiar spot behind home plate. A ball attendant handed David a baseball and he stood on the mound, wound up and threw a strike for the game’s First Pitch. Then, the HOF group – Rice, Martinez, Yaz, Guerrero – joined Red Sox players in a huddle around David and yelled out that ceremonial call to open every baseball game – “Play Ball.” 10 to 15 minutes of clearing the seats, the ceremony participants exited the field and shaking hands and hugging each other, David taking a few more bows and waving to the crowd, and we fans just watched every second of it. I watched Yaz from his seat all the way across the field, into the Red Sox dugout. I was glued to him. He was wearing his customary #8 and was by far the #1 Red Sox living legend on the field. He was and still is my favorite baseball player of all time.
And then, a game was to be played and I somehow forgot the fact I was at Fenway to see a baseball game, the first game in nearly 7 years. To be honest, I actually didn’t care what happened in terms of the game. I had been entertained and engaged as a Red Sox fan for 30 or so minutes of heart pounding David Ortiz highlights, watched my childhood idol grace #8 and walk on to the Fenway Park diamond, and cheered my appreciation for all the great players and coaches on that field. With deference to the Boston Sports media people who cover the games regularly, pick up a local newspaper and read about the game and how it went. Here are a few photos I took of the game in the short term.
One foul ball landed in the netting above me, then rolled to the edge of the netting frame, and sat there most of the game. As you know, foul balls at any game are special. Foul balls at a major league baseball game are extraordinary. This ball would not find a suitor tonight and stayed there all night long teasing fans and yours truly.
It was not the Red Sox night, and frankly that can be said a lot in 2022. The overall night however was a huge success for Red Sox fans in attendance. We were treated to an amazing pre-game ceremony, got to see our idols like Rice, Pedro, and Yaz. Ortiz did not disappoint with his larger than life personality and charisma personified. And did I forget to mention, it was David Ortiz Promotion Pin Night, so here is the big prize we all got:
With the 1 billion neurons of baseball firing in my head when asked “Who do you want to go see?” the best thing to have done was reply, “What do you think?” Rachel, I have to say, this was a really good call on your part. 7 years was worth the wait, indeed. Thank you for a Rhode Island Baseball Experience I will never forget!!!