It lasted just moments, the aching silence that descended on Fenway Park when Travis Shaw’s flyball expired in the glove of Cleveland right-fielder Lonnie Chisenhall, and with it another Red Sox season.
And then it lifted.
“Thank you, Papi,’’ they chanted, as only a handful of fans made their way to the exits. Everyone else remained standing in place, unwilling to hasten the knowledge that they would never see No. 34 in a Sox uniform again.
A semicircle of photographers and TV cameras gathered expectantly in front of the Red Sox dugout. On the other side of the diamond, the Indians celebrated in near-privacy, until the home crowd, in a burst of annoyance, began to chant, “Off the field, off the field.’’
Draped over the front of the center-field bleachers, a banner flapped in the air. If you closed your eyes, you could still see the ball fly over the glove of the caterwauling Torii Hunter into the Red Sox bullpen, the cop thrusting his arms in the air, as if Dave O’Brien himself was reciting again the three lines printed on the banner.
“We want Papi,’’ they chanted, their voices rising and ebbing.
“We’re not leaving,’’ they cried, the biggest crowd (39,530) to see a baseball game in Fenway in at least 50 years, and no one doubted their resolve.
And then he emerged. Gods do not answer letters, John Updike had famously observed of Ted Williams in 1960 when he crossed the plate after his last at-bat home run and disappeared into the Sox dugout without tipping his cap.
Maybe gods have undergone sensitivity training in the interim, or maybe Big Papi never aspired to separate himself from the ranks of the mortal. Either way, David Ortiz, who had retreated to the Sox clubhouse and addressed his teammates, came back out for the people who had grown to love him over the last 14 seasons.
He walked slowly toward the mound, his cap upraised, then pivoted slowly, acknowledging from every corner of the ancient edifice the applause that swept over him. In the eighth inning, when he had drawn a four-pitch walk to become the tying run, he had brought down thunder when he raised his arms and exhorted the crowd to elevate the noise level beyond the fever pitch it had already achieved.
He repeated the gesture twice more, once as he was headed back to the dugout after being replaced by pinch runner Marco Hernandez, then again upon his return.
“I was cheering so bad,’’ he would say later. “Once I got out of the game I was screaming at my team to put me back in it. Make me wear this uniform one more day. Because I wasn’t ready to be over with the playoffs.’’
The crowd had given him everything he had asked, but it was not enough. There would not be one more day.
Instead, tears. They filled David Ortiz’s eyes and coursed down his cheeks. His were not the only eyes that were wet.
“I’ve been trying to hold my emotions the most I can, but that last second I couldn’t hold it no more,’’ Ortiz would say later in the interview room. “And that’s how we feel about what we do, because we love what we do. So I respect this game so much and I love this game so much that as long as I play I want to always be one of the best.
“Not because of me, not because of my person, because I don’t really care about that; I really care about the fans. I really care about the emotion that they live through it. I really care about everything that comes with it, community-wise, what we do off the field. It’s the whole package. It comes with a lot of things. So I really care about all of that.’’
When David Ortiz arrived here Monday afternoon, he circled Fenway Park in his car, trying to lock into memory things he may not have even noticed in so many countless trips before. In the clubhouse after the game, he signed a bat for Ryan Hanigan, embraced Steven Wright, posed for a picture with his father, Enrique, and Bob Tewksbury, the mental skills coach. A Major League Baseball authenticator put some of Ortiz’s articles in a satchel, as he has all season. Ortiz told clubhouse manager Tom McLaughlin he’d be by in the next few days to pack up his things.
There were more hugs, but the tears had evaporated.
“I can’t ask God for no more than what he gave me,’’ Ortiz said. “I’m a guy that came out of the Dominican one day, I had just turned 17 years old, and all I wanted to do was have fun at what I do.
“Through my career, I saw a lot of things happen. I saw a lot of guys being lost in their lives, not just their career, but their life in general. Because this is everything that they have and they never made it. And seeing those things I always have been a guy that my mind and my eyes, I always used them at their best. And everything that I saw that cut them short, to not make it in their career, I kind of played it out like it was myself.
“And the experience, the getting to know things, viewing things from the outside, keeping my feet on the ground and trying to learn through the process and not taking anything for granted, gave me a 20-year career. So that one kid that was expecting just to have fun, here it is, 23 years later, having a career and walking home, there were not too many of us who get it done.’’
David Ortiz was going home. For the rest of us, for whom Ortiz had become such a constant, enriching presence, it was winter, suddenly.
Photo by Gordon Edes