Freddy Cabral pointed out the window of his convenience store across Centre Street in Jamaica Plain.
“You see that car over there? He was parking over there.”
That’s how close, many years ago, Cabral got to the man whose photo sits above the window, watching over the store: Red Sox legend David Ortiz.
“He’s my hero,” he said.
Standing behind the counter Thursday at Freddy’s Market Bodega, with Latin music playing on the radio, Cabral said there’s a chance he might finally meet Ortiz this weekend. He and hundreds of other local Dominicans will travel to Cooperstown, N.Y., to watch Ortiz’s induction ceremony into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday.
For the Boston area’s Dominican community, Big Papi’s ascension to the pinnacle of America’s pastime is not just a crowning moment for one of their own, but a recognition of how far their entire community has come in this country.
“When we see David Ortiz get the phone call, we celebrated like crazy here, because we’re Dominicans and we love David Ortiz,” said Yoleny Ynoa, a Dominican community organizer in Salem.
Junior Pepén, the Red Sox’s Spanish-language play by play announcer who co-hosts a daily sports radio show on WJDA with his brother, organized four tour buses that will leave Hyde Park Sunday morning to ferry 220 Dominicans from the Boston area to attend the ceremony.
Many more will travel on their own from Boston, Pepén said.
“Dominicans are very loud,” Pepén said with a laugh. “In Cooperstown, they know already with Pedro and Vladimir that Dominican people are very loud.”
Pepén, who had Ortiz on his show essentially every week while he was playing, ran into the baseball great on a flight back to Boston from Los Angeles on Wednesday. The two chatted and Pepén said Ortiz is very excited for the ceremony and grateful to have been chosen.
“I know how hard he had to work to be a legend,” Pepén said. “He comes from the bottom to the top.”
There are about 81,000 Dominican immigrants in Greater Boston, second only to the New York City area, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
Many of them are baseball fans, and all of them are fans of the longtime Sox designated hitter, said Ynoa, 53.
“Everywhere you go in my country you see someone playing baseball,” he said. “The Dominican Flag is our symbol and David Ortiz is the face of the Dominican Republic in Boston.”
Ortiz will become the fourth Dominican player inducted into the Hall of Fame, after Juan Marichal, who played most notably with the San Francisco Giants, in 1983; Ortiz’s Sox teammate Pedro Martínez, in 2015; and Expos and Angels legend Vladimir Guerrero Sr., in 2018. There are currently about 150 active MLB players who were born in the Dominican Republic, according to the online Baseball Almanac.
Jose Estrella, 62, an accountant and tax preparer in South Boston, is also headed to Cooperstown with Pepén this weekend. He said that if he gets a chance to speak to Ortiz, he’ll say how proud he is of Ortiz and how proud he is of the work that he does for the Dominican community in Boston and back on the island.
“He means everything for this community,” Estrella said.
Many Dominicans bring up with pride the work that the legend’s charity, the David Ortiz Children’s Fund, does to provide cardiac care to children in need in the Dominican Republic and in New England. They also talk about how connected how down to earth and connected he is to the local community.
This spring, Ynoa attended a talk Ortiz gave at Salem State University and came up to him afterward.
“He gave me a high five, and he said, ‘Hey my man, you are de lo mío!’” Ynoa recounted, using a Spanish phrase which means, roughly, “you’re one of my people.”
Dan Rivera, the Dominican American former mayor of Lawrence, where many of the region’s Dominican population call home, drew a parallel between Ortiz’s story and every immigrant’s journey.
“David’s greatness, all the hard work that got the team where it was going … it’s what the immigrant experience has been in the United States,” Rivera said.
Everyone has favorite memories of Ortiz’s career on and off the field. Many cite the 12th inning, walk-off homer he hit in game four of the 2004 American League Championship Series against the Yankees. Others say it’s his “This is our [expletive] city” remarks after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.
The constant in the memories is a player who brought hope and pride even when things seemed bleak.
“In the moments we needed hope and progress the most, he didn’t let the moment scare him or push him back, he met the moment,” Rivera said.