A huge thanks in this section to our Red Sox beat reporter, Ian Browne, who got the opportunity to join Ortiz in the slugger’s tour of the National Baseball Hall of Fame last Monday.
David Ortiz’s private tour of the National Baseball Hall of Fame was nearing its finish when the burly slugger stepped into the plaque gallery -- the oak room lined with rows and rows of bronze plaques, recognizing the most impactful and noteworthy contributors to the history of our sport. His own plaque will join those ranks in July.
But Ortiz was only interested in one of them.
He just wanted to see Kirby Puckett’s face.
When Ortiz was asked about his connection with Puckett, he broke down in tears.
“Once I saw his face on that plaque, I started thinking about a lot of things,” he explained. “Then, I tried to walk away from it, and then got caught up in the question [and started crying] because Kirby was like a really good friend to me. Kirby cared about me when I was just a kid. When I was nobody. I didn’t know who I was going to be or where I was going to end up. He cared about me. That’s what life is all about.”
They never overlapped as players in Minnesota. Glaucoma ended Puckett’s career before the 1996 regular season began. Ortiz was called up in September of ‘97, when he was welcomed into the clubhouse by the likes of Torii Hunter, Jacque Jones, Matt Lawton, Eddie Guardado, Denny Hockingand LaTroy Hawkins. At that point, Puckett was already working in the Twins’ front office -- but he always had time for young Papi.
“I don’t know who was funnier between Kirby and [Kevin] Millar,” Ortiz said. “Kirby was funny. Oh, my God. He used to make me laugh all the time. I used to get to the Metrodome and he had an office above the ticket office and I used to walk through that door, so the minute I pulled up, he would be like, ‘Hey, step into my office.’”
In fact, the relationship goes back even further than that.
When Ortiz was growing up in the Dominican Republic, all he wanted to watch was basketball. He had no interest in watching baseball. But the night of Game 6 of the 1991 World Series, his father sat him down and told him, in no uncertain terms, that he would sit and watch the whole game.
That’s when Puckett came to be “my guy,” Ortiz said.
“I sat down and watched the whole freaking game,” Ortiz said. “I was so happy at the end. I was so happy my dad forced me to watch that game.”
It’s no wonder Ortiz chose to wear No. 34 when he went to Boston -- and it’s no wonder that plaque was his first destination in the gallery.