The calendar was creeping closer toward David Ortiz’s final regular-season game at Fenway Park a couple weeks ago when Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh were rolling around ideas for the perfect way to honor one of the greatest sluggers in Red Sox history.
They brainstormed some possibilities, scrapping most of them, figuring they wouldn’t work for one reason or another.
The thought to name a bridge after Ortiz came to mind — the bridge on Brookline Avenue over the Massachusetts Turnpike made perfect sense — but they figured the city didn’t have a bridge left that hadn’t been named after someone.
“Our original thought was that we would just put it on the overpass, because we assumed that the bridge had already been named,” Baker said. “But it could be the ‘So and So’ bridge and then the Ortiz overpass.”
Then someone in Baker’s office took a closer look into it.
That person came back to him and said, “You’re never going to believe this, but that’s like the one bridge in Boston that has no name,” Baker said. “We were like, ‘Well, we have an idea.’
“Every bridge in Boston practically’s been named after somebody, and we were shocked, stunned amazed, and thoroughly psyched when we found out that that bridge over Brookline Avenue that so many Red Sox fans have walked over for so many years had not actually been named.
“And to be able to name that after David Oritz — and to get our colleagues in the legislature to whip that one through in a matter of minutes — was a terrific opportunity, I think, for us to just say thank you to him.”
“I’ll tell you it was very difficult,” Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo said, hardly holding back his sarcasm, “trying to convince the members that this was the proper thing to do.”
From Baker to DeLeo to Walsh to President of the Dominican Republic Danilo Medina to teammates past and present, family, friends, and 36,787 fans, Ortiz was engulfed in appreciation in a farewell celebration just before his final regular-season game at Fenway Park.
Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred, who was the first person Ortiz told about his plans to retire, was on hand to pay his respects to someone he considers one of the game’s biggest ambassadors. Ortiz had stopped by Manfred’s office over the winter to have the initial conversation with Manfred about his plans to walk away from the game after 20 seasons, and when the Sox were in New York again last week to play the Yankees, he paid Manfred another visit.
Manfred said they’ve had conversations about Ortiz’s plans for the future, and they’ll likely have more — “hopefully in the Dominican Republic during the offseason,” Manfred said.
“David would be in that category that I think of as transformational,” Manfred said. “He changed the Red Sox, obviously was a key part of the amazing three wins that they’ve had here, changed the course of this franchise, but I also think that he changed this city.
“He became a symbol — particularly during the marathon disaster, bombings — a symbol of the strength of the city and will always be remembered for that off-the-field component, what he did in Boston.”
Ortiz was showered with gifts — from custom Red Sox L.L. Bean boots presented by third base coach Brian Butterfield to a $1 million donation to his foundation on behalf of team ownership. He had to compose himself as he ran through all the thank yous. He took the twice-in-a-lifetime opportunity to snap a selfie with a president when he snapped a quick photo after Medina threw out the first pitch.
From right field, former teammates filed onto the field carrying the three World Series trophies they brought to Boston. A video tribute spanned the highlights of his career.
“I always wanted to get invited to those parties — the champ parties,” said Johnny Gomes. “There was a lot of World Series rings floating around out there. This guy’s conquered a lot within our game that a lot of people weren’t fortunate enough to accomplish. I think he pretty much checked everything off. I truly do.”
In left field the Dominican flag was draped over the Green Monster. It was perhaps the most tangible symbol of Ortiz’s cultural impact.
“The fact that he is someone from another country who endeared himself to learning English and being able to express himself, he was able to really bridge a gap,” Mike Lowell said. “He already had that relationship with the Latin players, but I think it really extended to guys from everywhere. I think he was someone that was genuinely accessible, and I think he wanted to get to know all his teammates. When you’re that good and you still make other people feel important, I think that’s a pretty special quality.”
Walsh took it all in.
“It’s bittersweet,” he said. “All of the old Red Sox coming back and everything on the field was great, but there was a minute there when he was looking at the last video, I was looking out at him thinking, ‘This is his last regular-season game at Fenway Park as a member of the Boston Red Sox. So it was bittersweet.
“We have great memories, and we still have great memories to be made in the next few weeks. But he’s a legend, and he’ll be missed by a lot of us. What he’s done with his foundation and really lifting the city up after the marathon bombing, everyone climbed on his back, and he just got this city back on track. He’s done a lot off the field and on, obviously.”