Dear David Ortiz,
I grew up hating you.
I do not have a specific first memory of watching you play or remember the first time your talents infuriated me. But, for as long as I can remember, you were public enemy No. 1 of the New York Yankees’ fan base.
In a strange way, you were as constant in my early baseball memories as the members of my own team. You were in every Yankees vs. Red Sox highlight reel, always looming on second next to Jeter. You were always waiting in the batter’s box to hit in that dreaded cleanup spot against Mo in the ninth, threatening a blown save.
I have been fortunate enough to attend two Yankees vs. Red Sox games in Fenway Park, and I remember how the stadium would shake when your name was called. I remember how loud I would boo, hoping my small voice would somehow deter your smooth swing and palpable intensity against my favorite pitchers.
I remember you launching baseball after baseball over that ugly, big Green Monster.
You were always the heart of a scary lineup, especially when Manny was around. I always thought of you two as a team, my two least favorite players, because, as a member of our biggest rivals, you were the players best at beating the Yankees.
The role you have played in the lives of Yankees fans is, as I said before, largely as public enemy No. 1. We did not enjoy watching you pass Mickey Mantle on the all-time homerun list. We were not pleased with your walk-off homer in the fourth game of the 2004 ALCS, but we were even less thrilled with your second 14th inning walk-off single the following game. And we always, always, made fun of your big chain.
But you really were such a game changer.
Even when I hated you, you were so fun to watch. With your chain peaking out from under your jersey and your gaze smug, even against some of the best pitchers in the game, you were iconic. I always held my breath when you were at the plate, because I knew there was a chance something incredibly terrible would happen — and it so often did.
You made us nervous, angry, anxious and frustrated, but we loved every second of it. Those long, drawn-out Yankees-Red Sox games were some of the best games I have ever witnessed.
Your talent was just as sturdy as those giant green pillars. You held up the rivalry just as they hold up Fenway.
And in a strange way, now that you are retiring, I kind of love you. I love the intensity you brought to the greatest rivalry in sports history. I love how hard you worked to get to where you are, and how you reminded us to never take being a member of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry for granted.
I love how much excitement you brought to the game of baseball.
I hate to admit it. I really do. But I am going to miss you.
We Yankee fans used to know the Boston lineup as thoroughly as our own, and during my fandom you were always a staple in the Red Sox’s lineup.
What I am trying to say is that you are as much a part of my fondest baseball memories as the members of my own team, because there is no New York Yankees without the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry. You are part of the legacy of Jorge, of Petite, of Mo, of Jeter — even if you personally were on the other side of their success.
In your letter to us, the Yankees fans, you said you were the only “old man still left” of the most recent rivalry.
And you’re right. You were the rivalry. And as frustrating as it was, in a way it was beautiful, and we all loved it. And without you, it will never be the same.
Without you, it is up to the new guys: to Mookie, to Benintendi, to Bogaerts, to keep our new guys, Sanchez and Judge and Austin, on their toes. And I’m sure the rivalry will continue with a new legacy, but your generation truly set a precedent for some of the best, most intense baseball ever played.
We hate to see you go, Papi, not because we will miss you beating us — though we will miss striking you out.
We hate to see you go because your retirement is just one more reminder that a generation of our guys is long gone, too.
Believe me. We are clinging to that nostalgia just as much as you are.
A Yankees Fan
Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.