COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — We are all judged by individual accomplishments and the company we keep. No one more so than a professional athlete.
David Ortiz hit 541 regular-season home runs, won three World Series with the Red Sox, and was a 10-time All-Star. He’s one of only five players with at least 500 home runs and 600 doubles. Flip over his baseball card and the bold numbers tell the story of an extraordinary 20-year major league career.
The final validation will come Sunday when Ortiz is inducted into the Hall of Fame. Then, he will walk with legends.
“Very excited, very excited,” Ortiz said Saturday. “I got to hang out with a couple of Hall of Famers and they gave me a huge welcome. Throughout my career, I got to meet all of them, pretty much. It’s a huge honor.”
As of Saturday, 52 of the 75 living Hall of Famers are expected to attend the ceremony. Among them will be Red Sox icons Wade Boggs, Pedro Martinez, and Jim Rice.
Carl Yastrzemski, who turns 83 next month, had concerns about COVID-19 and decided to skip the ceremony. He plans to be at Fenway Park on Tuesday when the Red Sox recognize Ortiz.
Of special significance to Ortiz will be the presence of 84-year-old Juan Marichal, the first Dominican voted to the Hall of Fame. Ortiz will be the fourth.
“Juan was basically the one who opened the door for Pedro, Vladdy [Guerrero], and now myself,” Ortiz said. “It’s quite an honor to have him around. I call him ‘El Doctor’ because he’s such a great human being and we all love him.”
Marichal won 243 games from 1960-75, five of them for the Red Sox in 1974. He’s one of the game’s most respected elder statesmen.
“I’m proud of David,” Marichal said. “It was not always easy for him. But he showed determination. I’m glad to be here to see this for him.”
Ortiz, 46, was a first-ballot selection to the Hall of Fame after a two-decade career that started with the Minnesota Twins in 1997.
As Marichal alluded to, it was not a straight path to the Hall. Ortiz was released after the 2002 season and was a free agent for nearly six weeks before signing with the Red Sox for a modest $1.25 million.
It remains one of the best moves in franchise history, as Ortiz led the Sox to a historic championship in 2004, then subsequent titles in 2007 and 2013. He retired after the 2016 season as one of the best postseason hitters in history.
“We had a lot of battles,” said Mariano Rivera, the brilliant Yankees closer who was a unanimous choice to the Hall in 2019. “He deserves to be here.”
As is his way, Ortiz turned his press conference on Saturday into a performance. He arrived at a gymnasium adjacent to the grassy field where the induction will be held wearing mirrored sunglasses, and for 25 minutes answered questions in English and Spanish.
When the moderator tried to end the session, Ortiz answered two more questions from the throng of journalists from the Dominican Republic, then took out his phone and shot a selfie with the crowd.
He also used the occasion to promote a party being held at a brewery on the outskirts of Cooperstown after the induction. The free event will be televised in the Dominican and include live bands. Thousands are expected to attend.
Ortiz’s election is seen as a boon for the local economy. The pandemic canceled the induction ceremony in 2020, and a muted affair was held last September, drawing a crowd of 20,000. At least twice as many are expected Sunday, with Red Sox fans pouring into the region from New England.
Cooperstown’s picturesque Main Street has been awash with Sox fans for several days, many wearing Ortiz’s No. 34 jersey. The Hall itself has long lines with patrons lining up to see a display that features Ortiz’s three World Series rings, a jersey he wore in Game 1 of the 2004 Series, a batting helmet from 2005, and a bat from 2013.
In the memorabilia stores adjacent to the Hall, baseball’s with Ortiz’s autograph are selling for as much as $1,575.
“We had to be here for Big Papi,” said Robert, a Sox fan from Natick who asked that his last name not be used. “He’s the player who changed everything.”
The out-of-town visitors on Sunday will include Red Sox owners John Henry and Tom Werner, and a cadre of team executives. Former Sox players Johnny Damon, Mike Lowell, Trot Nixon, Dustin Pedroia, Jason Varitek, Tim Wakefield, and Kevin Youkilis — champions all — are here to support Ortiz.
“It’s like a family,” Ortiz said. “It’s not just about the God-given talent you get.”
The inductees have been given 10 minutes to speak. Ortiz plans to address the crowd in English and Spanish.
Martinez, a master communicator, advised his friend to stay focused.
“Just be me,” Ortiz said.
It has gotten him this far.
Peter Abraham can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.