It is hard to imagine, says David Ortiz. It's hard to imagine what it will be like next year at Yankee Stadium, what it will be like to walk to the plate, look out and not see Derek Jeter parked between second and third waiting for him.
"For me, of course, he stands for the New York Yankees," Ortiz said Tuesday night before the Yankees opened a three-game series against the Red Sox. "He's one of the greatest of all time. It's definitely going to be different not seeing No. 2 on the field."
Since joining the Red Sox in 2003, Ortiz has seen Jeter nearly 20 times a season. The two have played starring roles in one of the most bitter rivalries in sport, a rivalry that became particularly heated after Ortiz joined the Red Sox as the two teams met in the ALCS in 2003 and 2004.
During that time period, Ortiz became the player that Yankees fans love to hate, especially after his 12th-inning home run in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS.
Those years also featured some spectacular feats from Jeter, most notably his diving into the stands and making a catch in the 12th inning of a regular-season game in 2004. Yet, while there is no love lost between Ortiz and Yankees fans, the Red Sox slugger cannot hide his affection for Jeter and the way he plays.
"Who doesn't like the guy? Really, who doesn't?" the 38-year-old designated hitter said. "Have you ever heard a guy say, 'I don't like Derek Jeter?' He is the perfect professional. His whole career, he has done everything perfect. When you play against him, you play against the best."
It's possible that this series could be the last time Ortiz faces Jeter. The Yankees finish the regular season with three games in Boston on Sept. 26-28. But if the Yankees are out of the playoffs, it's possible that Jeter will decide to end his playing career at Yankee Stadium.
Ortiz is only a few years away from walking away from the game himself. And he admits that watching Jeter's long goodbye this year has made him reflect on his own career.
"It happens to him today. Tomorrow it will happen to me," Ortiz said. "All of us have to pass the torch to someone else. In his case, it's very special. He's a great player who is going to be missed. Life will continue. The game will continue. But it's going to be a while before you have another Derek Jeter wearing a uniform."