The Subway Series, by virtue of New York’s gravitational pull, dominates the baseball world during the 48 hours the Mets and Yankees share the stage together.
Few things in the sport, if any, can knock such a massive spectacle off its axis.
But there’s just one Big Papi. And only a slugger equally beloved and feared in these parts as David Ortiz could overshadow the Subway Series, so the news that he was shot and seriously injured Sunday night in the Dominican Republic rocked both teams as they prepared for Monday’s opener in the Bronx.
“He’s an idol for all of us,” Robinson Cano said.
To fellow Dominicans such as Cano, that’s putting it mildly. Ortiz’s impact on his native country goes well beyond his heroics on the baseball field, most of which seemed to come at the expense of the Yankees. He’s been as much of an irrepressible force off the diamond, whether it’s involved charitable work in the D.R. or putting all of New England on his shoulders after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.
“He’s a beautiful human being,” Carlos Gomez said. “I don’t think he deserves what he’s going through right now.”
Ortiz retired in 2016, but he still serves as a special adviser to the Red Sox, and the lasting imprint of Big Papi remains. As Ortiz was being airlifted Monday from the D.R. to Massachusetts General Hospital, the team’s president and CEO Sam Kennedy spoke about how Ortiz’s shooting “shook our Red Sox family to the core.”
The same goes for anyone outside that circle, even stretching down here to the Bronx, where Aaron Boone — at 46, three years older than Ortiz — recalled their battles, both in pinstripes and later with the Indians. During the ’03 ALCS, won by Boone’s walk-off homer in Game 7, Ortiz hit a pair of homers, with six RBIs, to kick off what would be the start of his legendary October run in Boston.
Boone described Ortiz as “charismatic, a great guy and great competitor .
The Yankees have their iconic players, stretched out over 27 championships, but the Red Sox really only have one that is synonymous with winning. Ortiz took the Red Sox to a place that Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski and Jim Rice couldn’t.
“There’s very few players that do transcend and become superstars,” Boone said. “He’s one of those few figures that everyone knows. I think it’s playing for a franchise like the Red Sox, being such a great player, being an instrumental force in a lot of their championships. Coupled with the fact that he’s one of those guys that walks in a room and people pay attention and he lights it up.”
CC Sabathia, winding down a likely Hall of Fame career himself, recalled first meeting Ortiz when he played for the Twins, back in 2001. Both are extremely popular players, so it was only natural they became friends, too. Sabathia has attended the charity golf tournament that Ortiz hosts every winter in the D.R.
“He’s always just been a great guy,” Sabathia said. “He’s just one of those people in the game that you kind of just gravitate toward — his personality, the way he is, just always a fun-loving guy and wanting to help out with whatever, any kind of charity thing that I had, or anything I had going on. He’s always been there.”
Cano recalled speaking with Ortiz recently, hearing about the new house he built in Miami, and Papi’s invitation to come by. The whole incident, which everyone could see, captured on video, was a tremendous shock.
“For me, he’s like a big brother,” Cano said. “It’s really sad when stuff like that happens, especially for the ones you care [about], that you love, that are part of your family.”
Big Papi made everyone feel like a part of his family, which is why the outpouring of support came from everywhere Monday, and the Subway Series took a back seat, even in the Bronx.