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Papi: My Story

June 30, 2017

On the side wall of a little bodega on Washington St. in the Roslindale neighborhood of Boston, across the street from the baseball diamonds of Healy Field, is an astoundingly prescient mural painted after the Boston Red Sox won the 2004 World Series. (In case you hadn’t heard, it was the first time in 86 years the team had won a championship; it was kind of a big deal in this little corner of the world.)

RedSoxMural

The painting depicts Fenway Park filled with larger-than-life Red Sox greats: heroes from the distant past (Babe Ruth, Ted Williams), the recent past (Carl Yastrzemski, Carlton Fisk, Roger Clemens), and what the lyrical Charles Pierce called the three players who make up the Dominican heart of the Red Sox“—Manny Ramirez, Pedro Martinez and David Ortiz.

It is Ortiz who is front and center in the mural—not merely larger than life, but larger than every other figure in the painting, his massive arms and mighty bat extending more than half the width of the wall.

More than a decade later, what’s remarkable about the mural is the extent to which it proved prophetic.  David Ortiz didn’t tower over the franchise—or even the 2004 team—at that time, but he does now.  It’s not just that he’s the only player in the past century of the franchise’s existence to play for three championship teams. And it’s not even just that he was, to borrow Reggie Jackson’s marvelous phrasethe straw that stirs the drink“, on those teams. It’s that Ortiz has come to embody the Red Sox, and even the city of Boston, in ways unimaginable just a few years ago.

So how did a big, bearded, Spanish-speaking Black man from the Dominican Republic end up as the spokesman for what may be America’s most racist city, and what unquestionably was Major League Baseball’s most racist franchise?

Ortiz’ new autobiography, Papi: My Story doesn’t provide all the answers, but it offers some intriguing insights. Among them: Ortiz’ comfortableness in his own skin, his fierce determination to prove wrong anyone who slighted or doubted him, his insatiable thirst to hone his craft and learn from the best (including Boston teammates Ramirez and Martinez), and his ability to maintain focus and “slow the game down” in high pressure moments.

In the wake of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, it fell to Ortiz to speak for the team before its next home game, which he did in a remarkable 40 second speech from the heart:

This jersey that we wear today, it doesn’t say ‘Red Sox’.

It says ‘Boston’. We want to thank you, Mayor Menino, Governor Patrick, the whole police department, for the great job that they did this past week.

This is our fucking city. And nobody is going to dictate our freedom. Stay strong.

After which he raised a clenched fist as the fans erupted in a prolonged standing ovation.

To my surprise, I didn’t get in trouble for what I said. It was the opposite. What I said became a rallying cry for some people…. I think it stuck with New Englanders because of what they’d experienced. Every emotion imaginable was felt between Monday and Friday. Finally, on Saturday, we were up and fighting again. That’s one of the reasons I fit so well in Boston. That’s my personality too. Try to knock me out and it’s not going to happen. I’ll always take on the fight. (p. 192)

As that passage shows, Ortiz’ co-author, Michael Holley, does a great job in Papi: My Story of capturing Ortiz’ voice on paper, and of slipping in just enough (but not too much) context when Ortiz’ stories get more complicated (e.g., with MLB’s drug testing regimen, or with the history of contention between Boston’s professional athletes and the reporters who write and talk about them.) A book like this depends heavily on the degree to which the co-author is able to earn the athlete’s trust; the number of stories Ortiz tells here about his private life, including tensions within his marriage, is a testament to the relationship between Holley and Ortiz.

Papi: My Story is also just a flat-out enjoyable read. If you like baseball, or even if you just like stories of accomplished people who overcame great odds, you’ll enjoy reading David Ortiz’ memoir.

 

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From → Books, Sports

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