Dear Big Papi,
September 2, 1997–October 10, 2016. The bookends to an absolutely historic career are now official. The farewell tour is over, the Red Sox season is in the books, and you have played your last Major League Baseball game.
Sitting in my bedroom Monday night, watching the TBS stream on my laptop, I'm fairly certain that I experienced the entire range of human emotion within those few hours. I was nervous, then excited, angry, and then elated, but, at the end of the night, all I felt was pain. That being said, I can't imagine what you must be going through right now, Papi. Going out on top would have been magical, and all of New England knows that you deserved it, but sometimes things just fall apart exactly when you needed them to stay together. As much as I'm sure we all would like to wake up tomorrow morning and have it still be October 10, with an opportunity for a redo at Game 3, it's time for Red Sox Nation to accept the end of an era.
Unlike my parents, I don't remember what it's like to watch the Red Sox without you, Papi. I was 8 years old in 2004, and to be honest I don't remember much besides my pink Red Sox t-shirt, the "Reverse the Curse" koozies that started to appear in my kitchen, and waking up at my neighbors' house to hear that Johnny Damon had hit a grand slam and the Red Sox were going to the World Series. The point is, from before I can remember, you were there.
You were there in 2007 when the Red Sox dream team of my childhood won the World Series again. I had no clue what all these older Red Sox fans meant when they said that the Sox would always fall apart in October. We were on top of the world. Unfortunately, some of the next few years got a little rocky, then some of them got really rocky, and then we hit rock bottom. But through it all, you were here. Not once did I ever question that you would leave the city of Boston. You became a U.S. citizen here, after all.
Then came 2013. It was a year of immense tragedy, but then unbelievable triumph. Only you could get away with dropping an f-bomb in front of a packed Fenway Park while on live TV, Papi, and you didn't just get away with it, you created a rallying cry for an entire city. You and your Band of Bearded Brothers brought this city to their feet again, giving them something to celebrate after the horrific events of the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing. To me, after multiple years of missing the playoffs, 2013 is when you became a true icon. 2013 is when the Red Sox of my adult life — when I was capable of actually understanding a baseball game — were born. You were the leader behind all that.
On Sunday, October 13, 2013, my family and I drove up to Boston for Game 2 of the ALCS. The Tigers had taken Game 1, and we were all nervous about what would happen if they took Game 2 and then carried that momentum back to Detroit. Through the first 8 innings, it was not a fun game for a Red Sox fan, as I'm sure you remember. 5-1 Tigers in the bottom of the eight with 2 outs, to be exact. But then the bases were loaded, and you were coming to the plate.
Standing in the right field deck, looking out over a sea of red and having my ears filled with various cheers, I heard my dad mutter one single word under his breath as you stepped in for your first pitch: "home run." The next thing I knew, there was a baseball flying through the air, and Torii Hunter had followed it into the Red Sox bullpen. I had to hold my breath for a second, because for all I knew he had caught it. But then, the fans in the bleachers (and the bullpen cop) went ballistic, and all of Fenway Park erupted into absolute insanity. David Ortiz. Grand slam. Tie game. Salty's walk-off double was just the icing on the cake.
That game is without a doubt one of the greatest experiences of my life. Your grand slam was voted one of your top four moments as a member of the Boston Red Sox, and it is a moment that I will never forget. I have you to thank for that. Later that year, after you had won your third World Series Ring and first World Series MVP title, you finished third in the voting for Boston mayor, without being on the ballot. I'm not sure of any other MLB player whose city loves him so much that he can say that.
Throughout this past year, you have given Red Sox Nation the best final season anyone has ever seen. You did it through both immense physical and emotional pain, but you did it because you love this team and this city. Just so it's clear, Papi, we love you back more than you think is possible. You've never been short of giving out thanks, from former teammates and coaches to the Boston Police Department, and even to us, your loyal fans, but now it's our turn to give you one last thank you.
I don't know what it's going to feel like next April, to see someone else's name next to DH in the starting lineup. What will I do without seeing your goofy smile in the dugout or open arms waiting at the plate for one of your teammates who just hit a walk-off home run? Gone are the days of helmet-wearing, ready to celebrate Papi, and now have come the days of you watching from the stands. As painful as this is for both you and us, I want to thank you for giving us your absolute best to remember you by. When you announced your retirement at the beginning of the year, all I was hoping for was a decent season, one that wouldn't be painful to watch. The last thing I wanted was an anticlimactic end to your career. While Monday night might have been just that, your entire final season was far from it.
For all the home runs and the smiles, the championships and the comebacks, you will forever epitomize the Red Sox of my childhood and adolescence, and I will never forget the countless gifts you have given this city. Looking up at #34 in right field at Fenway for the many seasons of Red Sox watching that I have left is the one small comfort that I have in finally saying goodbye. I will miss you more far more than most people will ever understand.
From me and all the other baseball lovers who are proud to call themselves Red Sox fans:
Thank you, Papi.
. . .
Sara Stokesbury is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow her on Twitter at @sarastokes14.