MY FAVOURITE PLAYER: Carl Taylor on David Ortiz

Whether they’re willing to admit it or not, every baseball fan has a favourite baseball player. Maybe it’s their favourite team’s current ace, the random right fielder whose jersey they received as a Christmas gift when they were eight years old, or a promising prospect whose career was cut short by injury.

In this series, we ask British baseball fans to tell us how their favourite player came to be their favourite player and a whole lot more. Next up, Carl Taylor, aka @punkytype, waxes lyrical about David Ortiz.

First off, why David Ortiz?

As a long suffering member of Red Sox Nation, the late 90s and early 2000s were extremely frustrating. After years, indeed decades, of under achievement and false hope, a truly competitive baseball team had emerged in Beantown as the 90s drew to a close, spearheaded by a dynamic young shortstop called Nomar Garciaparra and a once in a generation pitcher, Pedro Martinez. Despite this, the rival New York Yankees had built another baseball dynasty as they stormed to World Series titles in 1998, 1999 and 2000. Further unsuccessful Fall Classic appearances in 2001 and 2003 followed for the “Evil Empire” but thereafter the tide started to turn. And the catalyst for this changing of the guard? The signing of David Ortiz, aka Big Papi, from the Minnesota Twins in 2003. Finally, the Red Sox had that big bat at the heart of their line up to follow in the recent footsteps of Jim Rice and Mo Vaughn, Ortiz was a DH /1B who had the power to strike fear into the hearts of pitchers across Major League Baseball.

What’s your earliest memory of watching him play?

I’m old enough to cast my mind back 21 years (I know) to the spring of 2003. The Angels were World Champions after beating the Bonds-era San Francisco Giants and the Red Sox seemed to have all the pieces in place to threaten Pinstripe dominance in the AL East. Back in those days though it was not easy to watch live baseball in the UK. We all watched the brilliant Baseball on Five every Sunday of course, anchored by the mercurial Jonny Gould, and live MLB was also available occasionally on the short lived Irish sports channel Setanta. My friend taped live baseball games for me to watch the following day but I’m pretty sure that I first saw Big Papi live on Channel Five in a game against the Yankees. I also recall that Roger Clemens was on the mound for the Yanks.

Tell us about your favourite David Ortiz moment

There are so many. Who could forget the game-tying grand slam home run against the unlucky Detroit Tigers in 2013? Even Boston Police Officer Steve Horgan went down in baseball folk lore after that mammoth dinger! Or his impassioned speech earlier in the same year at Fenway Park on the day of the Boston marathon bombings? Personally, I can’t look past that amazing, incredible and downright impossible game winning home run in game four of the 2004 ALCS. It was after 4 am here in the UK and before Dave Roberts‘s iconic steal in the bottom of the 9th it looked as if another season of unfulfilled hopes and dreams would be ended yet again at the hands of those damned Yankees (we were 3-0 down in the series). But the game was salvaged in the 9th and went into extra innings. With opportunities for both teams spurned, Manny Ramirez singled in the bottom of the 12th paving the way for Big Papi to launch an iconic game winning two run homer into a ballistic Fenway crowd. I, and millions of other members of Red Sox Nation all over the world, went absolutely mad; I was emotionally drained but managed to leap around the living room like an idiot while my wife, and probably half the street, thought I was quite insane. He did it again in game five and the rest is history.

Do you own any David Ortiz merchandise?

After 2004, I immediately joined the official Boston Red Sox Nation fanclub and ordered a huge colour poster of Big Papi hitting that seminal home run in the ALCS. When it arrived, the poster took pride of place on the cupboard door in the bedroom so I could be reminded of that moment every morning!

What’s your favourite Ortiz highlight?

Although there are many, and I have covered a few, I would also mention his 500th career home run, which came in a game against the Tampa Bay Rays in September 2015. Big Papi finished his professional baseball career with 483 dingers in a Red Sox uniform, only 38 behind the player many consider to be the greatest hitter in MLB history, Ted Williams. He was larger than life and he took his role as a mentor and hero to millions, especially in his native Dominican Republic, very seriously. But most of all he brought the curtain down on years of Yankee baseball hegemony, leaving lasting memories that still make Red Sox fans all over the world smile like fools and leap joyously around their living rooms.

Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

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