With David Ortiz’s retirement at the end of the season, many a Red Sox fan is saying goodbye to their childhood hero. For those fans roughly around my own age, he was the Boston Red Sox. My memories of baseball span roughly the same time frame as Ortiz’s reign with the Red Sox, so he was/is the only player to wear the crown of “Childhood Hero” for me. I will tell my kids about the ’04 ALCS, the 2006 season where no one could get him out, “This is our f-in city” and finally, the 2013 World Series (I promise I will do it in less than 9 TV seasons). But, just as he reflected this past offseason before making the decision to retire, it’s time for me to do some reflection myself.
One of the lines from the movie Moneyball that stuck with me the most was: “We’re all told at some point in time that we can no longer play the children’s game, we just don’t… don’t know when that’s gonna be. Some of us are told at eighteen, some of us are told at forty, but we’re all told.” This call is usually life, telling us that playing a game can’t happen forever, usually because of either a lack of talent or the wear on the mind and/or body. But we never stop being able to enjoy the game. Rather, this enjoyment evolves over time as the fans themselves evolve.
I’m at the age where you stop seeing professional athletes as unbreakable. They instead become people who are able to overcome their shortcomings to do things that few others can. Still amazing, still worthy of a standing ovation but not the superhumans that you see as a kid. David Ortiz was the one player who was the most superhuman to me. It was partly the legendary slaying of the Yankees and the ghost of Ruth with a few mighty swings of the bat, partly the fact that he did it 9 years later to the Cardinals, and partly the fact that he never seemed fazed, no matter the situation. When Opening Day 2017 rolls around, there will no longer be any superhumans on the field for me, partially due to my age but also because the one player who is still superhuman won’t be in the batter’s box. The field won’t look any different and there won’t be major changes to the way the game is played, but it will have lost that little sliver of wonderment, that little extra ingredient that made a Red Sox game unlike any other.
In this day and age this shift in how the game is viewed by fans as they get older is creeping up on young fans faster and faster. Social media gives us closer to a 360 degree view of professional athletes, as every move they make can be turned into hot takes and hard questions. The recent domestic violence mess in the NFL, and how it forced MLB to respond and pushed the issue into public spotlight (something this important social issue sorely needed) is just one example of how difficult it is becoming to separate the man in a baseball uniform from the man he is the other 21 hours a day.
This issue hasn’t touched Ortiz of course. He always seems to have a smile and is just having fun, much like Ken Griffey Jr. After 2013, Ortiz could run for mayor of Boston and stand a real chance of winning. He is the perfect example for kids to look up to, as close to a pure role model as can exist in 2016. Even then, at this point some people will bring up his complaining and whining at the plate on occasion or perhaps 2003. He’s not infallible, but to the college senior that at one time saw him as infallible it’s easy to shake all of that off.
Once this lack of awareness of the man-not-ballplayer is lost, it can never be reclaimed. Skepticism seeps in, and the lens with which the 50 men in uniform on the field are seen comes with caveats. The lens is never cleaner than before it gets used. This is the hidden price of fandom, a cost that goes beyond the $50 tickets and $9.50 beers(!!!!). But, it is vastly outweighed by the enjoyment of the first sight of the 30 foot green wall in person, of the titles won by men who become legends over the course of a month, a week, a game or even an inning. The hidden price is so outweighed by the reward that it is mainly forgotten about, much like the 12th man in the bullpen.
In some ways, David Ortiz’s retirement comes at the perfect time for my age group. It’s time to lose the last, little, lingering bit of childhood innocence as the real world beckons, but at the same time one more summer couldn’t hurt. One more summer of seeing our hero crush baseballs and tell father time to wait for its turn at bat. One more summer to recall 2004, 2006, 2013 and all of the years and clutch hits in between. One more summer to see my childhood hero.Next post: A Brief History of 3-Home-Run Games in a Loss
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