Local Dominicans transfixed by the David Ortiz saga
It’s like a shrine to the great slugger.
There’s a life-size poster of him at bat. Boston street signs emblazoned with his name hang from the walls. And of course there’s the framed photo of him, seated in a black smock for his weekly buzz cut.
If there’s one place in Boston where nearly everyone is concerned about David Ortiz, it’s here in Lower Roxbury, at the often-crowded MLB Barbers, where the Red Sox legend is present in spirit even when he’s not here to be groomed.
For the past five years, Jose De La Rosa has shorn No. 34, either in the chair at the back of the barbershop or at the three-time world champion’s home in Weston.
“What happened to him affects all of us — all of our community,” said De La Rosa, whom Ortiz calls “Vacano,” or “The Man” in Dominican slang.
The shooting this month of Ortiz at a nightclub in the Dominican Republic has shaken many of the more than 200,000 residents of Dominican heritage in New England, many of whom are constantly checking social media and watching TV broadcasts from the island for updates on the investigation.
In Boston, home to more than 35,000 Dominican-Americans, there is deep interest in knowing why such a beloved figure — and national hero — was targeted. Ortiz is still recovering from a single gunshot wound to the back at Massachusetts General Hospital.
At MLB Barbers, where Ortiz sat for a haircut as recently as last month, there’s indignation about rumors circulated by some media about a possible motive in the brazen attack; authorities have not revealed one.
“We don’t know why it happened, but I can’t believe it’s something bad that he was involved with,” said Ramon Marte, another Dominican barber. “He has plenty. He doesn’t need the trouble.”
A few miles away, at Tostado on Centre Street in Jamaica Plain, Danilo Pimentel said he was in tears when he learned about the shooting.
“He represents all Dominicans,” said Pimentel, an employee of the sandwich shop. “He’s our face to the world. An attack on him was like an attack on all of us.”
He, too, worries about the rumors.
“We hope there is a resolution to this soon,” he said. “Right now, everything is vague.”
A few blocks away, at the Fernandez Barber Shop, where Ortiz used to get his haircut, owner Juan Fernandez said he reveres Ortiz and has spent more time than usual monitoring the news from the island.
“David Ortiz means the world to us, and to many others,” said Fernandez, who owns the barbershop and cut Ortiz’s hair for years. “We love him very much, and it would be huge if we lost him.”
Sitting in a chair beneath Fernandez, getting his own buzz cut, Devin Hernandez said although he was born in the United States, he considers himself “100 percent Dominican.”
Like many other Dominicans, the 8-year-old considers Ortiz an idol.
“He inspired me to play baseball,” Hernandez said.
His mother, Yinette Tejada, who moved 22 years ago from Santo Domingo to Jamaica Plain, acknowledged that the Dominican Republic police have a reputation for corruption. Still, she has confidence that they will solve the case.
“This is important to the whole country,” Tejada said. “The police do a good job when they want to. I think they’ll get to the bottom of it.”
Back at MLB Barbers, where the big television is often tuned to a baseball game, De La Rosa said he recently had spoken with Ortiz’s driver, who reassured him that the retired designated hitter was out of harm’s way and is likely to make a full recovery.
“We have been worried about him,” he said.