As a large group of reporters gathered around Jason Varitek in the middle of the Red Sox clubhouse on Monday, Pookie Jackson and Kenyatta Gomez watched from a corner of the room, standing only a few feet away from the set of lockers David Ortiz used when he played.
Jackson and Gomez have been with the Red Sox for 25 years, working as clubhouse attendants. They’re the most unsung of heroes, doing all the little things that help a team run smoothly.
Both men looked tired, and understandably so considering they had stayed awake long past midnight trying what seemed like every number in their cell phones to get information on Ortiz’s condition after he was shot on Sunday in the Dominican Republic.
“We’re all just worried about him,” Jackson said. “He’s like part of our family.”
Gomez was wearing a T-shirt with the words “Gracias 34” across the front. The Sox had them made three years ago when Ortiz retired.
Gomez has visited the Dominican several times as Ortiz’s guest, and the idea that somebody would shoot him in the back didn’t seem possible.
“Shocked,” he said. “We’re all just shocked.”
Varitek said many of the same things, that sleep had not come easily out of concern for a great teammate and a better friend.
The former team captain had to pause to control his emotions, his characteristic stoicism cracking.
“He’s a dad,” Varitek said. “It’s a very scary thing that something like that could happen that easily.”
It was that kind of day at Fenway Park. The game against the Texas Rangers was secondary to concerns about Ortiz. Players from both teams discussed the incident, as did the ushers, security guards, vendors, and everybody else who works at the ballpark.
What have you heard? How is he doing?
Team president Sam Kennedy, flanked by president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski and assistant general manager Eddie Romero, answered some of the questions with principal owner John Henry standing off to the side.
“It was jarring. It was, frankly, stunning and terrifying,” Kennedy said.
“It was a horrific incident. Our focus right now, our exclusive focus, is on his health and well-being.”
Kennedy joined the Red Sox in 2002, just a few months before Ortiz was signed as a free agent after being released by the Minnesota Twins.
Ortiz was 27 at the time and Kennedy 29. They grew up together in the organization, Kennedy’s influence and Ortiz’s fame rising at the same time.
They celebrated three World Series championships together, survived managerial changes and other controversies.
Kennedy is a cool hand in a crisis, a polished executive who knows the right thing to say and when to say it. But this situation wasn’t one he was prepared for.
For the first time that anybody could remember, Kennedy almost broke down. Like Varitek, Jackson and Gomez, it was overwhelming to consider what could have happened, how close the organization was to tragedy.
“It’s an emotional time. I love David Ortiz,” he said. “We all love David Ortiz. So telling my kids [Sunday] night what has happened was really difficult.
“It’s hard to express what David Ortiz means to the Boston Red Sox. When you love someone and they come in harm’s way, it’s jarring. But you have to put those emotions aside and focus on what’s necessary.”
Alex Cora, who played parts of four seasons with Ortiz, didn’t hide how he felt. That wouldn’t have been possible.
“For those that believe, just pray for him,” Cora said. “Keep your positive vibes. I always said that he’s bigger than life.”
Nobody had any baseball questions for Cora. What was the point?
“There’s life. There are more important things than the Red Sox winning or losing,” Cora said.
“This is just part of what we do. The big man, I know he will be fine. I do trust that he will be fine. That’s what I want from everybody here. Stay positive and keep praying for him. It has been tough, very tough.”
Cora let out an audible sigh.
“He’s a superhero without a cape. That’s the way we see him. He’ll be OK,” he said.
As batting practice finished up, word came that Ortiz was on his way back to Boston and the care of Mass General.
“I want to go see him now,” Mookie Betts said. “Definitely looking forward to seeing that smile again.”