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Television Review

Big Papi shines in ‘David Ortiz In the Moment’

Sox hero gets the star treatment in new documentary

EPIX

If David Ortiz ever ran for mayor of Boston, the new EPIX documentary “David Ortiz In the Moment” could serve as his campaign film. This 75-minute tribute, executive produced by Ortiz’s agent, Diego Bentz, and his former agent, Fernando Cuza, would also be equally suitable to promote Ortiz’s beatification, coronation, or his appointment to the Supreme Court. Ortiz fans, who are legion, will watch with a lump in their throats and a fist in the air. Anyone looking for fresh insight, or a penetrating look at the complexities of the man called Big Papi, better not get their hopes up. This is a bloop single in a May road game, not a World Series home run.

“In the Moment,” which airs Thursday night at 8, leapfrogs around Ortiz’s career. We begin, after a few introductory comments and some unctuous narration from John Krasinski of “The Office,” with Ortiz’s memorably profane post-Boston Marathon bombings motivational speech to the Fenway Park crowd: “This jersey that we wear today doesn’t say ‘Red Sox.’ It says ‘Boston.’ ” Ortiz is “the man who led the city out of darkness with his words,” Krasinski intones — perhaps too heavy a burden to place on a baseball player, even one who batted an otherworldly .688 during the 2013 World Series.

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Such current and former Red Sox players as Jonny Gomes, Kevin Millar, and manager John Farrell are on hand to pay tribute to Ortiz, as are commentators both apropos (Peter Gammons) and head-scratching (Paul Pierce?). No mention is made of Ortiz’s alleged positive performance-enhancing-drug test in 2003, or anything else that might detract from the hagiography of “In the Moment.” “Big Papi is the personification of the American Dream — the ultimate success story that continues to unfold,” observes Krasinski. “This is the essence of David Ortiz, in the moment.”

After the World Series triumph, we follow Ortiz back to his native Dominican Republic and hear from his father, who used to ride his 1970 Honda motorcycle to the local ballfield to play and brought his son along to watch the games. We tour Ortiz’s basement, as if this were a baseball-themed episode of MTV’s “Cribs,” and take in his impressive collection of David Ortiz-themed memorabilia.

The middle section of the film, beginning with Ortiz’s unlikely release by the Minnesota Twins and career renaissance in Boston, provides a potted history already familiar to every Red Sox fan in the country. This slack segment is saved only by the enlivening presence of Ortiz’s friend and mentor Pedro Martinez, who gets his hair cut by Ortiz’s barber, oversees the grilling of meat, and delivers a very lengthy pre-lunch benediction. Martinez, another baseball legend initially overlooked by scouts and general managers, had implored the Red Sox to pick up Ortiz, recognizing another brilliant,
underappreciated talent.

Ortiz is pleasant company for 75 minutes. He is a charming host and an entertaining performer. “Time to make money!” he shouts at no one in particular, on his way to the Red Sox’ first home game of 2014. Prior to leaving the house, he rifles through his backpack, emptying it of a small jewelry store’s worth of watches and gold necklaces and leaving them behind with his wife. At the ballpark, he is surprised with a special ring to celebrate his World Series MVP trophy, and adds it to the chain around his neck, now groaning with baseball bling: “It’s about to get gangsta in here!”

Ortiz is seen touring a hospital ward for heart patients he has helped to endow in the Dominican Republic, and the performer in him appears to enjoy mingling with fans. The film culminates with the two Red Sox games before and during Patriots Day 2014. Ortiz catches the first pitch, hugs it out with executives of One Fund Boston, and throws in an RBI single for extra credit. The film ends before being able to depict any more of the 2014 season. Seeing too much of that might cut into Ortiz’s future margin of victory.

Saul Austerlitz can be reached at swa204@gmail.com.
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