BOSTON — David Ortiz is going to get his day at Yankee Stadium.
So deal with it.
The team made official Thursday what many already had suspected — and feared — by announcing that yes, Ortiz would be “recognized” before the Sept. 29 game in the Bronx with a pregame ceremony. No further details were provided, but the Yankees did their best to slide this through under the radar, burying a few sentences in their daily notes package.
The Yankees surely realize this might not go over so well with a fan base that has been tortured by Ortiz for more than a decade, and especially in 2004, when Big Papi orchestrated the most humiliating collapse in the Yankees’ long playoff history. Maybe next season they can work in a Pedro Martinez Jheri curl wig giveaway or a Manny Ramirez bobblehead to coincide with a Red Sox visit.
We kid, of course, because the fandom’s angst over feting Ortiz is understandable. But let’s put aside the profanities for a minute and understand something else: what the Yankees are doing for Big Papi is the right thing to do.
“He’s been really good for the game of baseball,” Joe Girardi said. “Even though he’s done a lot of damage [vs. the Yankees], I hope people show him the respect he’s earned, I think, in this game.”
Judging by my Twitter feed Thursday afternoon, many of you disagree, using some colorful language in the process. We get the emotion. There’s been no bigger Yankee assassin in our lifetimes, maybe ever. Before Thursday, Ortiz was a career .305 hitter against his Bronx buddies with 52 home runs, 166 RBIs and a .965 OPS in 236 games.
That’s a dangerous hombre, and those kind of numbers deserve at least a hat tip. It’s called sportsmanship. And if it’s any consolation, the Yankees’ 27 world titles still dwarf the Red Sox’s eight, even with Ortiz’s prominent role in delivering three of them.
Knowing Big Papi’s special affection for New Yorkers, we tried to track him down before Thursday’s game at Fenway Park for his take on the upcoming Bronx day in his honor. But Ortiz, at age 40, spends a great deal of time on the trainer’s table trying to get through this final season and he never emerged during the media’s access period. But when the question was relayed to him through the Sox PR staff, he did offer a response from the clubhouse.
“I’m appreciative of the fact that the Yankees are doing something for me because of our long-standing rivalry,” Ortiz said in a statement. “It means a lot to me.”
After a cooling-off period, and a few deep, calming breaths, think about it: Isn’t what the Yankees are doing for Ortiz not all that different than the Red Sox giving Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera a proper, gracious sendoff at Fenway? In Jeter’s case, the Sox treated him like Boston royalty, rolling out three of the city’s beloved champions — the Bruins’ Bobby Orr, the Patriots’ Troy Brown and the Celtics’ Paul Pierce — to help celebrate the Yankee captain’s final bow.
That was a classy gesture, considering that Jeter had gleefully harassed the Sox for nearly two decades. Ortiz certainly took notice of what his franchise did for Jeter and said in March he was “proud” to be a part of it. As for his expectations from the Bronx crowd when his day came, Papi hoped they could appreciate his performance — and not take it too personally.
“Well, I’ve been able to get some big hits,” Ortiz said earlier this year. “And with all the respect that I have for Yankees’ fans, it’s just business that you’ve got to take care of.”
Even with Papi’s Hall of Fame credentials — it’s going to be close five years from now — we can see how some may choose to stand up and boo Ortiz that day at the Stadium based on his PED positive from the survey-testing period in 2003. And that’s fair, too.
Bottom line, treat Ortiz however you want Sept. 29 in the Bronx. But we’re not likely to see another Papi anytime soon, and an adversary that unique, that entertaining, is worthy of recognition — at least until the game starts.