BOSTON -- To the delight of the roaring Fenway faithful, David Ortiz's No. 34 was placed on the right-field facade prior to the Red Sox's 9-4 win against the Angels on Friday night alongside the team's other legendary numbers.The honor was an enormous one to Ortiz, who often would take
BOSTON -- To the delight of the roaring Fenway faithful, David Ortiz's No. 34 was placed on the right-field facade prior to the Red Sox's 9-4 win against the Angels on Friday night alongside the team's other legendary numbers.
The honor was an enormous one to Ortiz, who often would take mighty cuts during batting practice trying to reach those retired numbers. He remembers being successful only once, clocking one off Bobby Doerr's No. 1.
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"Those guys, those numbers, they had a lot of good baseball in them and it takes special people to do special things," said Ortiz. "At the end of the day, to have their numbers retired out there, that happening to me today is a super honor hanging with those guys."
Big Papi joins Wade Boggs, Joe Cronin, Doerr, Carlton Fisk, Pedro Martinez, Johnny Pesky, Jim Rice, Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski as Red Sox icons who have received this honor.
Fans were told to be in their seats early, and they were, as an empty seat was nearly impossible to spot during the ceremony.
"I think it was way beyond what I thought," said Ortiz. "This is a stadium where if it's a full house, you'll see it by the second or third inning. But walking out there tonight, there wasn't an empty seat. It made me feel like one of those important games that we had where the fans want to be there from the very beginning and show some love and support. It was pretty amazing."
With the theme song to "The Natural" playing over the sound system, Ortiz walked on to the field at Fenway for the first time since his career ended in Game 3 of the American League Division Series against the Indians last October.
The crowd chanted "Papi, Papi, Papi" as Ortiz -- decked out in a grey sport coat, a bowtie and sunglasses -- hugged fellow Red Sox legend Yastrzemski.
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Ortiz took off his coat and put his home white Red Sox jersey over his shirt.
"A great event, great ceremony," said Red Sox manager John Farrell. "Well-deserved. I think any time that we put on a pregame ceremony to honor an individual, it's done with such class."
Big Papi became the 10th Red Sox player to have his number retired, and first in the first season after his playing career ended.
"I remember during batting practice, I was always trying to hit those numbers, but I never thought about having my number up there because I looked at those players with so much respect," Ortiz said. "All those people did things really, really special for this ballclub and the community. To be part of that select group, the best way to say it is I'm extremely honored to be up there with those guys."
While the prevailing emotion for the beloved slugger was joy, Ortiz did shed some tears when his close friend and former teammate Dustin Pedroia spoke to the audience.
"We want to thank you for not the clutch hits, the 500 home runs, we want to thank you for how you made us feel, and it's love," Pedroia said. "And you're not our teammate, you're not our friend, you're our family. … Thank you, we love you."
"I was trying to hold ground until I saw Pedroia," said Ortiz. "Me and Pee Wee, we go way back. He's like my baby brother. I know that what he said comes from the bottom of his heart. I couldn't hold it in no more. Pee Wee isn't that nice every day, you know? When you see Pee Wee saying some things like that, acting like that, you know it's coming from his heart. I love him so much. I really thank him for everything he said out there."
Ortiz and Pedroia were teammates from 2006-16.
"It was a special night," Pedroia said after the game. "He means a lot to us and this city. He played with a lot of guys, and he affected them in a major way. He obviously knows how we all feel about him. Just to reiterate that to him meant a lot."
There was a big contingent there to support Ortiz, including his wife Tiffany, son D'Angelo, daughter Alex and father Leo.
And perhaps most poignantly, the son and daughter of the late Kirby Puckett were present as well.
Ortiz chose No. 34 when he got to the Red Sox because of the influence Puckett had on him during his time with the Twins.
"Oh man, that was very emotional," Ortiz said. "I'm not going to lie to you, like, when I saw them coming toward me, I thought about Kirby -- a lot. That was my man, you know. It was super nice to see his kids. It was very special to get to see them, to get kind of connected with Kirby somehow, some way."
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The night also reconnected Ortiz with his long-time friend Jose Pujols, who recently belted homer No. 600 and batted third for the Angels on Friday.
"It's pretty special," Pujols said. "David Ortiz has been a really good friend of mine for a long, long time, who helped me out in my career and gave me a lot of advice. I'm honored to be here tonight to celebrate with him."
The current Red Sox were thrilled to have a front-row seat for their former leader's monumental moment.
"Obviously we know what he brought to the team every day," said Red Sox right fielder Mookie Betts. "Great leader. Obviously being in the lineup, he brought fear to the other team. I think it's just special to be able to say I played with somebody of his stature. It's a blessing just to be part of his legacy."
Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.