COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — They arrived with Dominican flags draped over their shoulders, Red Sox jerseys on their backs, and warm memories of championships past in their hearts, determinedly making their way to this small town to celebrate the career of David Ortiz.
Some towed wagons laden with lawn chairs and coolers, prepared as they could be for the summer sun. Others just sat on the grass, happy to have a spot on the rolling lawn facing the stage.
In all, an estimated 35,000 people gathered for the Hall of Fame induction on Sunday, the vast majority of them there to pay tribute to the player known as Big Papi.
In a 19-minute speech as emotional as one of his walk-off home runs, Ortiz rewarded their journey.
“Wow, Cooperstown!” Ortiz said.
With a Dominican flag pin on the lapel of his blue suit, Ortiz switched between English and Spanish in telling the story of his career going back to his first days as a professional and thanking those who had a role in propelling him to the Hall of Fame.
“I was just a kid playing ball in the Dominican Republic,” Ortiz said. “They saw something in me that they fought for.”
In all he named nearly 50 people, from his family to his first coaches in rookie ball in 1993.
Ortiz said later that he cried several times while preparing and rehearsing the speech but was able to hold it together while on stage.
The one time he came close to breaking down was while talking directly to his father, Leo, and paying tribute to his late mother, Angela.
“I thought it was going to be worse to be honest with you,” he said. “The emotions got under control.” As Ortiz spoke, in front of him were members of his family along with Sox owners John Henry and Tom Werner, team president Sam Kennedy, a host of team executives, and many of his former teammates from the 2004 and ‘07 championship teams.
Ortiz smiled when he spotted Jason Varitek, who was given a day off from his duties on the Red Sox coaching staff to attend the ceremony.
“I can’t forget about Jason Varitek,” he said. “That man is serious. I love you, Cap.”
Ortiz singled out fellow Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez, who was seated behind him along with 47 other Hall of Famers. Three of his four Red Sox managers, Grady Little, Terry Francona, and John Farrell, also were thanked.
“Tito, wherever you are, man, you know Papi’s got you. John as well,” he said.
Bobby Valentine, who managed the disastrous and dissension-ridden 2012 team, went unmentioned.
Ortiz also saluted late Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett, a mentor during his time with the Minnesota Twins and the reason he wore No. 34 in Boston.
“My teammates always were there for me and that’s something that I’m always going to appreciate,” Ortiz said. “In life, remember, our teammates are our second family.”
Red Sox fans were on his mind as Ortiz recalled the emotions of the 2013 championship and his final game at Fenway Park in 2016.
“I will always be there for you, Boston. I love you, Boston,” he said.
There was bountiful appreciation from the crowd for the other honorees: Negro Leagues pioneer Bud Fowler, former Dodgers first baseman and Mets manager Gil Hodges, longtime pitcher Jim Kaat, White Sox great Minnie Miñoso, eight-time Twins All-Star Tony Oliva, and Negro Leagues player and MLB coach Buck O’Neil.
Fowler, Hodges, Miñoso, and O’Neil were inducted posthumously. Hall of Famer Dave Winfield represented Fowler, who died in 1913. Relatives spoke for the other three.
Irene Hodges spoke eloquently about her father, coming close to tears as she recounted his relationship with Jackie Robinson.
Oliva’s speech included a plea for the Hall of Fame to admit his friend and fellow Cuban Luis Tiant, the former Red Sox pitcher.
Oliva made the same point afterward when he discussed his speech.
“Luis Tiant belongs in the Hall of Fame,” he said. “He was everything.”
Ortiz is an inner-circle Hall of Famer, one of only 58 elected in his first year of eligibility by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
He received just under 78 percent of the vote despite a 2009 report by the New York Times citing anonymous sources who claimed Ortiz tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug in 2003.
Ortiz denied knowingly using any PEDs. In 2016, commissioner Rob Manfred cast doubts on the scientific validity of the 2003 test, helping clear the way for Ortiz’s election and what was a memorable speech.
“If my story can remind you of anything, let it remind you that when you believe in someone, you can change their world. You can change their future, just like so many people who believed in me,” he said.
“To everyone that believed in me— from my family, to coaches, to teammates, to fans — know I could not have done this without you. My Hall of Fame plaque represents each one of you and I’m going to thank you guys for the rest of my life.”