COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — David Ortiz finally stepped up to the podium on the stage at Clark Sports Center, batting seventh and last in the order of speeches.
There were 35,000 or so fans spread across the expansive field in front of the star attraction, so many wearing No. 34 Red Sox jerseys and others proudly holding Dominican Republic flags.
And then Big Papi gave what amounted to a thank-you note Sunday in English and Spanish.
It went from the Dominican to the U.S.; from Minnesota to Boston; from God to his family; from the baseball writers to the baseball people who helped shape his career along the way to this day, the day he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
“Before I was Big Papi, before the Red Sox, before the Twins, I was just a kid playing ball in the Dominican Republic,” Ortiz said. “To all my coaches from winter ball, the minor leagues and the big leagues, I could not have done it without you.”
The first sentence of his Hall of Fame plaque summed up a big reason why Big Papi was standing here as a first-ballot honoree:
“Powerhouse left-handed slugger who was at his best in the clutch, with legendary performances that took the Red Sox from championship drought to three World Series titles in 10-year stretch.”
The Yankees were on the receiving end, like many other teams. His extra-inning walk-off hits in Games 4 and 5 of the ALCS in 2004, the year the Red Sox won their first championship in 86 years, are mentioned on his plaque.
Ortiz had three walk-off hits that postseason and was the ALCS MVP. He set an AL record when he hit .688 in the 2013 World Series and claimed MVP honors. He batted .289 with 17 homers and 61 RBIs in 85 postseason games.
The 10-time All-Star and eight-time winner of the Edgar Martinez Award as the outstanding designated hitter was rather good in the regular season, too, batting .286 with 541 homers and 1,768 RBIs in 20 seasons with Minnesota and Boston.
“I always tried to live my life in a way that supports others, that makes a positive influence in the world,” Ortiz said. “And if my story can remind you of anything, let it remind you that when you believe in someone, you can change their world. You can change their future, just like so many people who believed in me.”
Ortiz was the lone player voted in for this induction ceremony by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. A couple of committees voted in the rest of the class: Jim Kaat, Tony Oliva and the late Gil Hodges, Minnie Minoso, Buck O’Neil and Bud Fowler.
Kaat won 283 games in 25 seasons from 1959-1983. But the 83-year-old former pitcher needed someone to believe in him early on.
That someone was a 91-year-old face in the crowd at this induction. It was his minor-league manager from 1958 in Missoula, Montana, Jack McKeon.
“I started out that season, Jack, 1-4, and I thought one more bad start and my dreams are going to be crushed before they start,” Kaat said. “ . . . Jack called me over one day and said, ‘Kid, you’re going to pitch in the big leagues. You’re pitching for me every four days. Might pitch a little in relief between starts.’ ”
Kaat finished 16-9 in 1958.
Fowler was born in 1858. His family moved to Cooperstown soon after his birth. He was a pitcher, catcher and second baseman. In 1878, he became the first Black player to integrate a white professional team, doing it in the International Association.
He faced much racial discrimination in his career and eventually helped create some Black barnstorming teams.
“There’s an unmistakable line that you can follow,” Hall of Famer Dave Winfield said, speaking on Fowler’s behalf, “from Bud Fowler to Andrew ‘Rube’ Foster, who created the Negro Leagues in 1920, to Jackie Robinson in 1947, and through the other inductees we celebrate here today.”