As the regular season dwindles down, David Ortiz experiences his final stops in Major League cities. Each final go-around brings about a new ceremony for Big Papi; creative gifts and giant checks have come home with Ortiz seemingly every road trip. This Sunday, however, Ortiz chose to focus on a more serious matter in his final stop to Tropicana Field: his late friend Jose Fernández.
The baseball world was shaken Sunday morning with news of the death of one of its budding young stars, José Fernández of the Miami Marlins. Fernández was one of the best young pitchers in the game, winning the Rookie of the Year in 2013. His meteoric rise often drew comparisons to Pedro Martinez, Sandy Koufax, and Clayton Kershaw. The 24-year old Cuban defector had plenty of character outside of baseball, too. He was once imprisoned for trying to leave Cuba and, once he was able to leave, he saved his own mother from drowning on the voyage to America.
Fernández was killed in a boating accident around 3 AM along with two other friends. The news spread around the sports world, effecting not only the Marlins but Miami, as well as all of baseball. In the Red Sox clubhouse, no one was more likely effected than the retiring designated hitter.
Ortiz and Fernández were good friends; the young star idolized Big Papi growing up. Ortiz and Fernández’s friendship was on full display in this summer’s All-Star Game in San Diego. Fernández reportedly told him he’d “groove him” a pitch that he could hit, but instead walked him. The two exchanged laughs and Ortiz even tried to convince him to come to Boston in free agency.
Ortiz Defers The Day To Fernández
Of course Ortiz was stricken with grief as he prepared for his final game in Tampa Bay. Instead of an elaborate on-field ceremony, as has become customary, Ortiz said he’d rather accept his gifts privately, leaving the day to celebrate Fernández. To honor him, he put the initials “JF 16” on his hat. Every team held a moment of silence in memory and Ortiz got emotional in the Red Sox dugout.
As far as his gifts, Ortiz got an oil painting of his 500th home run which he hit in Tampa last September, and 34 handmade cigars. They were presented to him in the bowels of the Trop by Evan Longoria and Chris Archer of the Rays. So, say what you want about these retirement tours and David Ortiz, but he definitely let his class take over this time. For Big Papi, and so many around the MLB, Sunday was a shocking reminder of the fragility of life and he handled it in the classiest way he could have.
Kudos to you, Papi.