It was the culmination of 14 incredible years, three World Series titles, and countless memories.
On a warm Friday evening, David Ortiz’s No. 34 was retired at Fenway Park, joining nine Red Sox legends whose numbers are untouchable.
Before the red drape covering Ortiz’s number was unveiled, No. 34 appeared everywhere throughout Fenway and — what was formerly Yawkey Way — David Ortiz Drive.
Oriz’s number was on signs, jerseys, game programs, and videoboards. The Red Sox team shop had sold so much Ortiz apparel that the store needed to restock after the game had started.
Perhaps the memories of Ortiz’s 2016 season, one of the best of his career, were still fresh. Less than a year after retiring, his number has become cemented in Red Sox lore, quite a feat when considering the other players’ numbers, including Jackie Robinson’s, weren’t retired for an average of 26 years after their careers concluded.
“He is incredibly important to the Red Sox, the city and Major League Baseball, for that matter,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “I am fortunate to have worn the same uniform as him.”
Fenway Park looked filled to capacity nearly 45 minutes before game time, with the jersey retirement ceremony set to begin.
No. 34 was plastered on both on-deck circles and in center field. The three World Series trophies that Ortiz was so instrumental in bringing to Boston were put on display. Highlights of Ortiz’s greatest moments played on the videoboard in center field for about 15 minutes preceding the ceremony.
Former teammates Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield, who began the ceremony, walked out of the dugout and onto the red carpet. Fans erupted even louder when Pedro Martinez was announced.
Ortiz strutted onto the red carpet in typical Big Papi fashion, sporting a sleek navy suit and swanky sunglasses. He slipped on his No. 34 white Red Sox jersey, and the crowd went wild.
In his speech that lasted about 10 minutes, Ortiz showed the confidence, wit, light-heartedness, and sincerity that endeared him to so many.
On the visiting dugout side, Angels designated hitter Albert Pujols teared up as he watched his teenage friend take the microphone. On Friday night, Pujols reflected on Ortiz’s best traits. Pujols said he used to call Ortiz during a slump, and the advice Ortiz gave to his Dominican friend was simple: Look at the back of your jersey. Ortiz wanted Pujols to remind himself he was still the same dominant player he always was.
“That is something I always kept with me,” Pujols said. “He has helped me out in my career and given me a lot of good advice. I’m honored to be here tonight to celebrate with him.”
Pujols said it’s special to be part of the star-studded group that has continued the Dominican tradition of excellence in the majors. Ortiz has always proudly represented the Dominican Republic, seen in his “Just a kid from Santo Domingo” shirt or appearances in international competitions.
“We idol him like there is no tomorrow,” said friend Carlos Baez, who also was born in the Dominican Republic. “The guy could run for president in the Dominican Republic tomorrow and win, hands down.”
Maybe in America, too. On Friday night, a woman held a sign that read “Papi for President.”
The Red Sox went on to win Friday, 9-4, but this night was about Ortiz.
Martinez and Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia, two of Ortiz’s longstanding teammates, spoke about Ortiz before the game.
“You are not our teammate, you are our family, and it will be like that until the day we die,” Pedroia said. Ortiz then walked up to the microphone teary-eyed.
“It was very touching, very emotional,” Ortiz said. “I was trying to hold my ground until I saw Pedroia. Me and [Pedroia] go way back. [Pedroia] is like my baby brother. I know what he said comes from the bottom of his heart. I couldn’t hold it any more.”
Ortiz would go on to thank his family, teammates, fans, and his beloved city of Boston. After speaking for about 10 minutes, Ortiz unsurprisingly walked off the field to “Papi” chants and a standing ovation.
“He’s an icon,” Dave Dombrowski said. “You don’t say that very often about individuals in a community. But to me, he’s an icon in the city of Boston. He deserved that. That’s how he’s treated by the community. He’s well-respected, and it’s a special night for everybody.”