COOPERSTOWN, N.Y — Until Monday, David Ortiz had never stepped foot in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
It proved to be a day with a full count of emotions.
There was joy at seeing where his bronze plaque will be placed after he is inducted in July; awe at holding the bat Ted Williams used when he hit his final home run in 1960; and tears when he saw memorabilia related to one of his early mentors, Kirby Puckett.
“Here we are. Here we are,” Ortiz said.
Ortiz was elected by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America in January after a 20-year career that included 541 home runs and three World Series championships with the Red Sox.
With Hall of Fame vice president of exhibitions and collections Erik Strohl as his tour guide, Ortiz saw displays that highlighted Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, the early days of the Red Sox, and some moments from his own career.
The plaque gallery made the deepest impression, as it does with most visitors.
“Getting to know you’re going to be part of where they are is something that is very impressive,” Ortiz said. “Because I know what it takes for those guys to be where they’re at.
“When you first begin, the last thing that you’re thinking about is being part of that pack.”
The Red Sox played an exhibition game here in 2005, but there wasn’t time for the players to see the museum. Once Ortiz was elected, the Hall arranged for what it calls an “orientation visit.”
With the surprised players from the baseball team at Easton (Pa.) High happily tagging along behind him and angling for selfies with the slugger, Ortiz took in the Hall and asked many questions.
A visit to the basement archives was particularly meaningful. Ortiz examined caps, gloves, spikes, bats, and other pieces of equipment from Ruth, Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, and other Hall of Famers.
When Strohl handed him a bat used by Puckett when he went 6 for 6 with two home runs on Aug. 30, 1987, Ortiz took a step back.
“My man. This was my guy,” Ortiz said as he examined the black bat.
Ortiz explained that as a Minnesota Twins prospect in the late 1990s, Puckett took him under his wing. They remained close until Puckett’s death in 2006, five years after he was elected to the Hall.
Later in the day, when recounting the moment, Ortiz paused and cried for a few seconds before he composed himself.
“Once I saw his face on that plaque I started thinking about a lot of things,” Ortiz said. “Then I tried to walk away but I got caught up . . . Kirby was a good friend to me. Kirby cared when I was just a kid — when I was nobody.
“I didn’t know who I was going to be or where I was going to end up. He cared about me. That’s what life is all about.”
When Ortiz picked up a club-like bat used by Ruth, he started to swing and nearly clipped a shelf behind him.
“Be careful, Big Papi,” Strohl said.
Ortiz also was impressed to hold the baseball from the final out of the 2004 World Series. The sacred sphere came into the Hall’s possession in 2006 as a part of a settlement between the Sox and first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz as to who was the rightful owner.
“That’s the one? Get outta here,” said Ortiz, who hit .400 with five home runs and 19 RBIs in 14 postseason games that year.
The Williams bat felt right in his hands.
“Oh, yeah, this is it,” Ortiz said. “When you talk about Ted Williams, that’s everything.”
Ortiz is one of seven new Hall of Famers scheduled for induction on July 24. Former Minnesota Twins stars Jim Kaat and Tony Oliva were selected by the Golden Days Era Committee, which covered those from the years 1950-69, along with the late Gil Hodges and Minnie Miñoso. The late Bud Fowler and Buck O’Neil were selected by the Early Baseball Era Committee, for those whose contributions were primarily before 1950.
“It’s going to be fun. I can’t wait for that to happen,” Ortiz said. “Just enjoy. It doesn’t happen every day. I know it’s a lot.”
It will be a joyous day for Red Sox fans, too. Ortiz has come to understand that these last few months.
“I know the happiness that we bring to people,” he said. “It’s something I really cared about when I played. You hear people talking, especially in New England, about the game and the things that we do.”
At the request of the Hall, Ortiz signed the spot where his plaque will be attached to the wall in July. It’s a few feet away from his old rivals Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter, and a section over from his friend Pedro Martinez.
“An amazing day,” Ortiz said.