I am David Ortiz, Big Papi, and I hear the people shout my name at Fenway Park every night again. OK, my nickname. I walk to the plate with my favorite two-tone ash bat, spit into my favorite batting gloves, clap them together, step into the box and swing from the heels of my favorite baseball shoes and everyone goes crazy. Just like old times.
Once more I am in the New England production of 'Casey at the Bat,' and, yes, I am still Casey. I am here to take this Mudville nine back to the top of the world. The grimness of the past few seasons -- all that talk about fried chicken in the clubhouse and Bobby Valentine in a fog and friction, friction, friction -- has disappeared. The Boston Red Sox are pulling away from the pack and I am the star.
That's right, the star. There are some nice players here, especially the second baseman, the centerfielder, a bunch of pitchers and a few characters with beards straight from an 1800s religious revival, but every team needs a big voice and a big bat at the front of the chorus. That would be me. Pavorotti. Enrico Caruso. George Herman Ruth.
Who would have figured this?
I am 37 years old. Seventeen years in the big leagues, 11 here in Boston. These are numbers that all should work against me. The glory time, the breakout in my career, that 2004 season with the comeback against the Yankees in the playoffs and that World Series romp over the Cardinals to end 86 years of local misery seems like it was a billion years ago. Everyone else is gone.
Manny still is Manny, I am sure, but his reputation has been destroyed and his career is finished. He is being Manny by himself these days. Curt Schilling, man of the bloody sock, had all those problems with the meltdown of his video game company. Filed for bankruptcy. Doesn't even own the sock any more. Pedro Martinez hasn't thrown a baseball in anger for four seasons. Johnny Damon probably will be remembered as a Yankee now and Kevin Millar is a broadcaster and Tito is the manager of the Cleveland Indians. The Indians! Theo Epstein is running the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs!
I, for some reason, am still here.
This is amazing.
Even to me.
I feel like the grand survivor, the last man standing in one of those reality shows. I not only am still on the island, but flourishing. My batting average is .313, which is fifth in the American League. I have 26 Big Flies and 89 runs batted in. The fear is back in opposing dugouts when I step to the plate. Infielders scoot to the right side of the infield. Pitching coaches come to the mound. I am in the first year of a two-year $26 million contract that made a lot of people wince when I signed it in the off-season. Well, nobody's wincing now. Except a lot of American League pitchers.
My manager, John Farrell, thinks I might be one of the best bargains in baseball. He said some really nice things about me the other night, Wednesday, after I collected two home runs and my 2000th hit in that 20-4 win over the Detroit Tigers.
"What [David's] meant to this organization, this city, being involved in two World Series already, the fixture that he's been for a number of years in the middle of our lineup, I couldn't imagine playing without him," Farrell said. "I think, more than anything, [the worry about his future] was a matter of health. Not production or projection of what this year would have been. It was a matter of him getting healthy and obviously he has."
Funny how all that worked. I began the season on the disabled list, inflammation in both of my heels, and everyone was wondering what would come next. Was I done? Shot? Finished? I was wondering, too.
I played six rehab games in Pawtucket, Triple A, hit a sparkling .222 with a homer and six RBIs, then made my debut on Apr. 20. You might remember that moment. It was the first game after the bombing at the Boston Marathon and the following manhunt that kept everyone in Boston inside. This was an emotional day and I was asked to say a few words before the game and I guess I added to the emotion. You also might remember that moment.
"This is our f***ing city," I said. "Nobody is going to dictate our freedom."
It all went from there. (That might have been the most famous F-bomb of all time, broadcast coast to coast and around the world.) I had two hits in that game, straight from Pawtucket, three more in the next. April often has been my most troubling month on the schedule. I often have started slow. This time, without seeing a lot of pitching, coming back from the bad heels, I started fast and stayed fast. I was hitting .333 with nine homers, 35 RBIs at the end of May. Flying.
The team also had a fast start -- we were 20-8, straight out of the gate -- and everything has built from there. Worst to first. That's our story and I'm part of it. The winning is back. The passion is back. (Perhaps you saw that video clip of my batting prowess against that telephone in the dugout in Baltimore?) I am having the time of my life.
I know there are still some doubters out there, people who think that all of this is too good to be true, which means it can't be true. Steroids, human growth hormone, some chicanery must be involved. I will deny that charge as often as it comes up. I will continue to deny. I know my name was mentioned once with steroids, long ago, on that list from the Mitchell Report. I still don't know how that happened and no one has ever said anything about me since. I deny, deny, deny.
The story of this season is good. The Red Sox are magic again and I am the star again. The story is true.
Just listen to the people. They all want to believe.