This is an op-ed with which I could do nothing that is obviously better than other op-eds. So it becomes an entry here, and part of what is tantamount to a case.
David Ortiz and a Hall of Fame athlete’s greatest moment.
David Ortiz is going into baseball’s Hall of Fame this weekend, which pleases me for reasons beyond the bounds of sport. As a longtime Boston sports fan, there has been no one—not even Mr. Brady—who has brought me more triumphal joy than Ortiz. There was something about his late inning heroics that felt festal, like something larger than a baseball game hung in the balance.
Living in Boston most of my life, I know that a lot of people in the rest of the country detest the city and what they think it stands for. Bostonians are elitist, so they say, with all of their local colleges. They’re also racists, as so many narratives maintain, and quotes from athletes who pass through these parts. But I think we can all agree—or we should be able to—that sports are at their best when they transcend sports and the cheapjack stuff of "my team is better than your team!"
2013 was the year that the bombs went off on Marathon Monday. The Red Sox weren’t expected to achieve anything that season. The roster was composed of a few stars—Ortiz chief among them—but mostly castoffs who were fighting to stay in the league. They were players with something to prove, and a team that should have been garbage, went on to win the World Series. They’re my favorite team of all-time, because of that non-sport component. Their narrative was a human narrative, with wins and losses that were wider in scope.
Sports tend to cartoon us. I think that says more about the place we’ve gotten to as a society than sports themselves, which maintain a noble bearing, because they embody what is meant by an honest-to-goodness meritocracy. But I find the large-gutted fifty-three-year-old man in an Aaron Judge jersey laughable, embarrassing, the same way I think about Red Sox fans when they break into a “Yankees suck!” chant. This isn’t what we’re going for, as people—even people aiming to have some fun and cut loose. A standard of excellence exists with anything. Even in how you partake of in what you love, or the entertainment that keeps you coming back. There’s a core human element that is always worth finding, and sitting alongside, to put it in the terms of box seats.
Ortiz had experienced lots of outstanding moments at Fenway Park. I suspect Yankees fans change the channel any time a clip of Games 4 of the 2004 ALCS come on the TV, the same way I do whenever video of Game 6 of the 1986 World Series is trotted out. But Ortiz’s greatest moment as an athlete came when he wasn’t an athlete at all.
It was the Red Sox’ first game after the bombs went off on Boylston Street. Ortiz had been hurt and not playing, but he took the pregame microphone, and gave a region in need of it a shot of what it means to come back.
“This is our f---ing city,” this man from the Dominican said. “And nobody is going to dictate our freedoms. Stay strong.”
I remember that the channel carrying the broadcast didn’t even bother to bleep out the expletive. It was just true, and it seemed best to let what was true remain hang in the air. That moment reminds me that there’s always something more important than sports which sports can bring out. These athletes possess rare talents that most people don’t. Not just for sports, but for anything. And when do they have the most value? When they are most like everyone else.
That’s a powerful lesson. It’s not the same, but I think of someone like Roberto Clemente, who lost his life in an airplane crash bringing relief supplies to people devastated by an earthquake in Nicaragua. This was one of the fifty best ballplayers to ever live, but nothing else came close to speaking of his greatness—his consequence—than this one act.
These players make us remember that there are all kinds of ways to be a superstar, and the ones that get glorified the most readily, might not measure up in nearly the same way. Tip your proverbial cap to Mr. Ortiz this weekend, whether you think he was a juicer or not, or Boston is the worst. There’s coming through in the clutch, and coming through when it most matters. The right kind of superstar understands the difference.