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Root 34: David Ortiz Drive starts party

Red Sox celebration of slugger to culminate with number retirement ceremony at Fenway tonight
MLB.com @IanMBrowne

BOSTON -- David Ortiz has intentionally stayed away from Fenway Park this season, giving his former teammates time to forge their own identity in this post-Big Papi world. But the big slugger will be back in grand fashion tonight, as the Red Sox will retire No. 34 to the façade in right field.

The ceremony, streamed live on MLB.com and RedSox.com at 6:30 p.m. ET, will put a bow on a memorable couple of days in Boston, as the city has celebrated one of its greatest sports heroes this week. On Thursday afternoon, the city of Boston dedicated David Ortiz Drive near Fenway Park. Mayor Marty Walsh announced the dedication, with Ortiz saying Boston "got me to where I am."

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BOSTON -- David Ortiz has intentionally stayed away from Fenway Park this season, giving his former teammates time to forge their own identity in this post-Big Papi world. But the big slugger will be back in grand fashion tonight, as the Red Sox will retire No. 34 to the façade in right field.

The ceremony, streamed live on MLB.com and RedSox.com at 6:30 p.m. ET, will put a bow on a memorable couple of days in Boston, as the city has celebrated one of its greatest sports heroes this week. On Thursday afternoon, the city of Boston dedicated David Ortiz Drive near Fenway Park. Mayor Marty Walsh announced the dedication, with Ortiz saying Boston "got me to where I am."

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Then on Thursday evening, Ortiz was celebrated -- and tweaked -- at The Roast of David Ortiz, a charitable celebration of the big man's career and outsized personality. Now the capper is on deck, with the number retirement ceremony set for Fenway Park tonight.

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Ortiz's number will take its place alongside 1 (Bobby Doerr), 4 (Joe Cronin), 6 (Johnny Pesky), 8 (Carl Yastrzemski), 9 (Ted Williams), 14 (Jim Rice), 26 (Wade Boggs), 27 (Carlton Fisk) and 45 (Pedro Martinez), as well as Jackie Robinson's 42, which is retired throughout baseball.

The big moment will happen about a half hour before the Red Sox host the Angels for a 7:10 ET start in an MLB Network showcase game. Fans are asked to be in their seats by 6:30. The ceremony will be streamed live on MLB.com and redsox.com.

"It's going to be incredible," said Ortiz. "Being out there with some of the greatest players that played the game is something that is such an honor."

Ortiz hit 483 of his 541 big league home runs as a member of the Red Sox. All 10 of his All-Star selections came with Boston. He also garnered the Roberto Clemente Award in 2011 and a World Series MVP award in 2013 during his 14 seasons with the Sox.

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Given those numbers, as well as his role in helping to deliver three World Series championships to Boston and his enormous presence in the community, Ortiz is one of the most beloved figures in the history of a sports-crazed city. Fittingly, then, he will become the first Red Sox player to have his number retired less than a year after his retirement.

"I don't know, somebody must like me here," said Ortiz. "Like I say, everything happens so fast. I have been receiving so much. It's just time to enjoy it, and I feel blessed and thanks to everybody for the motivation and support through the years. That's what definitely gets you to the highest level to compete."

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The plans to retire Big Papi's number this quickly were formed as far back as April 2016.

"The average time between a Red Sox player's last at-bat and getting their number retired is 26 years," said Red Sox president Sam Kennedy. "For David Ortiz, it's 265 days. I think that says a lot about this ownership group and the men and women of the Red Sox, how they feel about David Ortiz. We were flying back from Houston last year, and we were talking through the plans for David Ortiz's retirement weekend.

"And I asked the dumb question to my bosses of when we should retire his number, and everyone said, 'Immediately, right away, ASAP', so I think that's a symbol of how we all feel about David."

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As much as the Red Sox can't wait to see Ortiz get such a big honor, they are also looking forward to spending some time with him.

"It will be great to see him," said Red Sox manager John Farrell. "He's kept his distance from us, but it will be a fun day, a well-deserved day, and we're really looking forward to the celebration of David once again. To see him at the ballpark, to see the smile, to hear the booming voice, it'll be a good day for us."

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Ortiz helped mold many of the young core players who are performing at a high level this season.

"It's going to be really cool to see this moment for him," said Red Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. "Especially growing up watching him play and then getting to play with him and experience what it's like to be his teammate and be like a student of his game, it's going to be cool. What he's done for the city, the team, people around him, it's well-deserved. I know we couldn't be any happier for him."

The crowning moment that takes place tonight will be one that will be remembered for a long time.

"He joins the most exclusive club you can be a member of with Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski and now he's the 10th person to join that club," said Red Sox chairman Tom Werner. "The only thing after that will be the Hall of Fame. And maybe a statue."

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.

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