David Ortiz and an athlete’s greatest moment

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David Ortiz was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame earlier this month, which I like for reasons that go beyond sports. As a lifelong Boston sports fan, no one — not even Mr. Brady — has brought me more triumphant joy than Ortiz. There was something about his late-inning heroism that felt celebratory, like more than a baseball game on the line.

Living in Boston most of my life, I know a lot of people in the rest of the country – and it’s not just a New York thing – hate the city and what they think it stands for. Bostonians are elitist, they say, with all of their local colleges. They are also racists, as claimed by so many stories and quotes from athletes passing through town.

Hall of Fame inductee David Ortiz, formerly of the Boston Red Sox, speaks during the National Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony, Sunday, July 24, at the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown, NY (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

It was in 2013 that the bombs exploded on Marathon Monday. The Red Sox weren’t expected to achieve anything this season. The roster was made up of a few stars – including Chief Ortiz – but mostly defrocked people who were fighting to stay in the league. They were players with something to prove, and a team that should have been trash won the World Series. It’s my favorite team of all time, because of that non-sport component. Their story was a human story, more than a sports story.

Ortiz had had many exceptional moments at Fenway Park. I suspect that Yankees fans change channels every time a clip from Game 4 of the 2004 American League Championship Series airs on TV, the same way I do every time the video of the game 6 of the 1986 World Series airs. But Ortiz’s greatest moment as an athlete came when he wasn’t an athlete at all.

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It was the Red Sox’s first game after the bombs exploded on Boylston Street. Ortiz had been injured and wasn’t playing, but he took the pre-game microphone and gave a region that needed it some insight into what it means to come back.

“It’s our goddamn town,” the Dominican man said. “And no one is going to dictate our freedoms. Stay strong.”

I remember the channel airing the show didn’t even bother to swear. It was simply true, and it seemed best to leave what was true hanging.

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This moment reminds me that there is always something more important than sport that sport can bring out. These athletes possess rare talents that most people do not have. Not just for sports, but for anything. And when are they most valuable? When they are most like everyone else.

It is a powerful lesson. It’s not the same thing, but I think of someone like Roberto Clemente, who lost his life in a plane crash while bringing relief to people devastated by an earthquake in Nicaragua. He was one of the 50 greatest ballplayers to ever live, but nothing else came close to speaking of his greatness – his consequence – than that single act.

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These players remind us that there are all kinds of ways to be a superstar, and the ones that are most easily glorified may not measure up in the same way. Tip your proverbial hat to Mr. Ortiz, whether you think he was drunk or not, or Boston is the worst. There is a shift in the clutch and a shift when it matters most. The right kind of superstar understands the difference.

Colin Fleming was born on Cape Cod and now lives in Boston. He is the author of eight books including “Sam Cooke: Live at the Harlem Club, 1963” and “Buried on the Beaches”.

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