When I was nine, my family and I went to a rain-soaked Red Sox game in the middle of July. We sat just out from under the first base overhang down the right field line, decked out in our dorky Red Sox ponchos for over an hour until they postponed the game before the first pitch. In September, they made up the game—at 1:05 on a cloudless, Thursday afternoon. My mom drove me, two friends, and my younger sister to the game. We hopped in her Jeep Grand Cherokee, parked in a questionably legal spot on Brookline Ave, and barreled in to Fenway in the top half of the second inning.
I remember two things from this otherwise meaningless, late-season game for a non-playoff Red Sox team: 1. That it was against the Twins, who got out to a big, early lead against Ramon Martinez—only to squander that lead in the middle innings. 2. And that I really liked this big first basemen on the Twins who had a huge smile and a huge swing.
That lovable, big fella with the big grin on the Twins was David Ortiz. That was almost 16 years ago.
Big Papi signed with the Sox (for chump change) two years later. In his 14 years in Boston, he’s become my favorite Red Sox player, my favorite Boston athlete, my favorite athlete, and the celebrity who’s brought me the most sheer, childlike joy (other than Michael Scott, of course). He’s a hugger, a dancer, a foodie, and the most clutch bat in the history of baseball.
He carried a truly mediocre offense to a World Series title in 2013—just months after the Boston Marathon bombings. He had the same strut and clout in their ’07 championship. And in case we forget, he was superhuman in the greatest comeback in sports’ history (Against the Yankees. One year removed from Aaron F****** Boone.).
Obviously, the ’04 team was a team. They had group shots of Jack Daniels’ before playoff games (!!). They were endearingly moronic and amazingly cohesive for a team that called themselves The Idiots (which was an accurate depiction, thanks to guys like Kevin Millar). They were a team—and Papi epitomized that sense of team, ushered in that sense of team, and delivered time and time again for that team.
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In middle school and high school, I used to take drum lessons. My teacher was part Fred Armisen, part Jemaine from Flight of the Conchords: thick glasses, music snobbery, thick glasses. Every Thursday afternoon during my 40-minute free block, we rocked out to The Beatles and The Who to let off some steam. I wasn’t particularly good. I couldn’t really consistently hold a tough beat. But I loved blasting away.
One Thursday—less than a week after the ’04 World Series parade—I rehashed the playoffs to an underwhelmed sports fan. I told my teacher how the Red Sox coming back from 3-0 against the Yankees, winning the pennant, and sweeping the Cardinals to win their first World Series in 86 years—how that was the greatest stretch of my life. It was. He was confused. And cynical.
“No, what about the best moment from your life—not someone else’s life. Like, I get that’s fun to watch, but it’s not you in there, you know?”
I did know. But I didn’t agree. It was the first time I’d ever cried happy tears. I felt like the little boy in The Polar Express who rode a train to the North Pole, met Santa, but didn’t need to shout his surreal experience to the world. I held that steady, calm, happy buzz until opening day the next year when that magic slowly wore off as most things do. (David Wells was our opening game starter in ’05, which got rid of that euphoric state rather quickly.)
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A year and a half ago—mid to late January 2015—I was living in Denver and feeling achy, chest pain. It wasn’t overwhelmingly painful. It was more of an acute, occasional ping. Sometimes, it left me a bit out of breath. I spent a lot of nights staring at the ceiling trying to take deeper inhales.
Its cause wasn’t a mystery: I was way too swept up in the Patriots’ postseason run (and the accompanying witch hunt and smear campaign related to Tom’s balls). The highs were stupidly high. The lows were debilitatingly low and lasting. I felt it all. And I struggled to turn it off.
I told myself I could make it through that Patriots’ season then take a big break from obsessive sports watching. In February, Malcolm Butler did his thing. Tears were shed. And I started to let go.
I still watch sports. I still play in fantasy leagues and listen to the Red Sox on the radio most nights. What’s changed, though, is the emotional attachment—the incessant, sapping attachment. I still scream and jump around and shout when stuff like this happens—but it feels like it’s from more of a healthy distance. I don’t get as frazzled when people take (dumb) jabs at Tom or Bill. Once the game’s over, I now feel like it’s more over. Like, it happened—and was amazing or terrible—but now I can move on to other things. (My chest has thanked me.)
Big Papi’s run with the Sox will also be over soon—whether at the end of September or sometime in October. And I’ll be sad and nostalgic when it’s over, but I’ll mostly be grateful for the 14 years.
Gratitude is the wine of the soul. Go on—get drunk!—Rumi