When terrorists brought Boston to its knees in 2013, there's a reason we asked David Ortiz to lift us back to our feet.
Of all the stars we called our own -- Tom Brady, Paul Pierce, Zdeno Chara -- only Ortiz could fill the role thrust upon him the Saturday after the marathon bombs blasted a hole in our collective identity.
With the region reeling, Ortiz stomped to the mound, pointed at the "Boston" on his jersey, and gave New England a rallying cry: "This is our (bleeping) city!"
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A crime committed by outsiders presaged an ugly time in American politics, with fear of non-natives -- first Muslims, and now pretty much anyone south of Texas -- being exploited to demonize and polarize. Leave it to Ortiz, a first-generation immigrant himself, to bridge that divide in a manner that galvanized and united in its profane defiance.
Work brought him here, but Ortiz came to represent everything we love about our athletes and our city -- he wore his emotions as proudly as his diamond studs, he delivered when it mattered, and he gave back more than he took. He wasn't perfect, complaining about his contract, smashing dugout phones, and interrupting press conferences to rail about scoring decisions, but we loved him for his flaws, too. He earned every street, alley, and bridge that bears his name.
The bond we feel with Ortiz pales in comparison to the godlike status he holds in his native Dominican Republic, however. With all due respect to Pedro Martinez, Albert Pujols, Juan Marichal, and Co., no one is revered quite like Ortiz, who's simultaneously self-made and larger than life, both an icon and a man of the people.
The David Ortiz Children's Fund has raised millions of dollars so disadvantaged kids can receive life-saving heart surgeries, helping over 800 children in the Dominican and thousands more in New England.
He's a superstar and a genuinely decent man, which made the events of Sunday night so shocking and senseless.
With the Bruins about to start the third period in St. Louis on the kind of stage where Ortiz shined brightest, news broke via fuzzily translated reports from Santo Domingo that Ortiz had been shot.
We waited breathlessly for good news, first feeling strangely reassured he had only been shot in the leg, and then fearing the worst when we learned the bullet had actually entered his back and exited his stomach. When nightclub surveillance video revealed what looked like an assassin racing into the frame and firing one shot before fleeing, our hearts sank at the image of Ortiz slumping backwards while everyone around him scattered.
Gradually, though, word turned positive. Ortiz had been raced to a hospital and taken into surgery. The chief of police and surgeon declared his condition stable. Then his family announced he was out of danger and would make a complete recovery. The Red Sox offered a medical flight to take him anywhere in the world.
It appears the worst-case scenario -- unthinkable in a place where he is revered, and yet sadly familiar when one of every three residents lives in poverty -- has been averted, but it's still heartbreaking to consider how close this story came to ending tragically.
Ortiz seemed acutely aware of this cosmic cruelty himself. "Please don't let me die," he reportedly implored the surgeon. "I am a good man."
The pain in that statement sounds more emotional than physical, and anyone who has crossed paths with Ortiz over the years understands why. Even when he was one of Boston's biggest stars, making All-Star teams, ending curses, and winning three titles, he treated the littlest people with respect, from clubbies to reporters to the cleaners who vacuum the carpets.
Gregarious, generous, gracious -- all describe Big Papi. Good luck finding someone with something bad to say about him.
"When you respect people and show people love, I think you're never going to forget about that," Ortiz told the New York Times in 2016 as his career wound to a close. "I feel like I have been that way with everybody, and that's better than just thinking about the guy that used to hit home runs.
"Because I see a lot of players, they get to be extremely good when they play, but their personality doesn't come along, and when they're done, you never see anyone talk about them."
Ortiz will never have to worry about that. In a town on the verge of another title, few athletes remain as beloved as Big Papi. He delivered countless highlights over 14 seasons, and he also delivered when Boston needed him most, at the end of its darkest week.
That's something we'll never forget, because all I know is this: The world is a better bleeping place with David Ortiz in it.
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