David Ortiz: How to Say ‘Goodbye’
In the final moments of his illustrious career, David Ortiz took the microphone at Fenway Park. It was the end of his three-day lavish retirement celebration put on by the Red Sox in honor of him, but Big Papi closed the festivities by taking a knee on the grass, lifting his ball cap in the air, and thanking the fans. “I want to thank all of you—the fans!” he said. The home crowd erupted in applause.
Over the years, Ortiz has been more than a star baseball player. He has become an icon because of his performance and a beloved figure because of his raw and sincere nature. He will forever live in the memory of Boston Red Sox fans not just because of how he played the game, but also because of the way he left it.
Few could’ve projected an ending like this. He had a few injury-plagued seasons between 1997 and 2002 during his time with the Minnesota Twins, and ended up signing a free-agent contract with the Boston Red Sox in 2003. He got his shot that year when General Manager Grady Little benched Jeremy Giambi in favor of Ortiz, and the rest is history.
He’d go on to win the World Series in 2004 and set the Red Sox single-season home run record in 2006 with 54 hits. The Red Sox would win the World Series again in 2007 and then in 2013, and before it was all said and done, Ortiz would be selected to ten All-Star games and hit over 500 home runs.
“…every one of us will have to say goodbye at some point.”
But like all good things, his career also had to come to an end sooner or later. On November 18, 2015—his 40th birthday—Big Papi announced on The Players’ Tribune that he’d retire from baseball after the 2016 season. The emotional video ended with sincere appreciation for the fans.
“I’m very thankful for having fans like you guys who have supported me through my career. I wish I could play another forty years so I could have you guys behind me… but it doesn’t work that way. And after next year, time is up. So let’s enjoy next season.”
And enjoy he did, as he posted 127 RBIs and 38 home runs—his highest home run total since setting the Red Sox single-season record back in 2006. In the waning moments of his professional sports career, Ortiz played some of his best ball, earning a selection to his tenth All Star game.
That’s not normal. When I played in the NFL, there were veterans in our locker room who were just kind of coasting to their careers’ end. It happens, but not to Ortiz. He knew his playing days were numbered, and he kept the pedal to the metal all the way through the finish line.
So when the team threw an awesome goodbye party for their long-time slugger before the regular-season finale on October 2, it felt fitting. The Red Sox brass retired his number for the 2017 season and made sure that the league Commissioner, the President of the Dominican Republic, and the Governor of Massachusetts were in attendance. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh announced they’d be renaming a street and bridge in Ortiz’s honor, and even some of his old teammates from the 2004, 2007, and 2013 World Series showed up for his last hurrah.
David Ortiz’s goodbye was perfect because he played the game in such a way that he was ready for retirement, whenever it came.
Few of us have the opportunity to do so from such a grand, public stage, but every one of us will have to say goodbye at some point. Statistics show that 100% of lives end in death. Every life, sooner or later, in one way or another, comes to an end.
With his graceful goodbye, Ortiz challenged me to take a look at my own life and ask myself if I have been living with the end in mind. As a pastor, I believe that what we do with our lives matters not only now, but also eternally. One day, we will all have to answer for the way we lived our lives, and as Scripture says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” [Matthew 6:21].
When your life is over, will you have spent it living for right now—gathering treasures here on earth, where “moth and rust destroy and thieves break in and steal” [Matthew 6:19-20]? Or will you have stored up for yourself treasures in heaven?