With chants echoing through the Plaque Gallery as he entered, David Ortiz felt right at home inside the Hall of Fame.
The dreams of his youth growing up in the Dominican Republic came full circle on Monday as the tour wrapped up in preparation for his induction this summer.
And Big Papi was clearly touched.
“The party is just getting started,” Ortiz said.
Hearing a bunch of high school baseball players shouting his nickname also helped.
A big smile creased his face as he sat somewhat impressed by his surroundings, the wooden sculptures of Babe Ruth and Ted Williams just to his right.
“Man, it’s been a long road, you know what I’m saying. Being in this room is my first time. It gives me goosebumps because when I was a kid it’s like those guys in this room, you look at them and you’re like wow! It’s kind of impossible (to imagine) considering where I’m from,” he said.
“The greatest players to ever play the game. That’s a huge compliment. I still can’t believe it. I still can’t believe it,” he said. “I know on the court I’m doing whatever it takes to win championships and represent Boston. It worked.”
The longtime Red Sox slugger was elected to the Hall of Fame on his first tryout in January by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. A 10-time All-Star in 20 seasons, mostly with Boston, Ortiz was chosen on 77.9% of the ballots, just above the 75% threshold required for election. He is the 58th player chosen in his first year on the ballot.
Ortiz, 46, is the fourth Hall of Famer born in the Dominican Republic. He joins Juan Marichal, Pedro Martinez and Vladimir Guerrero. Ortiz will be enshrined on July 24 with veteran committee selections Buck O’Neil, Minnie Miñoso, Gil Hodges, Tony Oliva, Jim Kaat and Bud Fowler.
Ortiz said he started thinking about the Hall of Fame when he hit 400 homers in July 2012.
“Once I hit my 400th, someone had a conversation with me about it and I was like, ‘Hmm. Let me try to take better care of myself, see if I can do it,” he said. “That’s when I started to pay attention.”
Ortiz, who batted .286 and hit 541 home runs with 1,768 RBI for Boston and Minnesota, has made 88% of his plate appearances as a designated hitter. That’s the most of any Hall of Famer, surpassing Seattle’s Edgar Martinez, who has been DH for 71.7% of his plate appearances.
Ortiz, 6-foot-3, 230 pounds, was one of the best hitters in the game, helping the Red Sox win three World Series titles in his 14 seasons with them. And his mile-wide smile endeared him to fans around the world, making him one of the game’s most popular players.
A group of high school players from Easton, Pennsylvania validated it that day. At the Hall of Fame by chance after the rain of their match, they followed him on his tour before greeting him and chanting his nickname.
As he walked through the Hall of Fame, Ortiz stopped and looked at the display of Ted Williams and spoke reverently of the sacrifices of the Splendid Splinter during World War II, when he spent three years in the service military from 1943 to 1945 instead of playing for the Red Sox. Ortiz also swung one of Williams’ bats and one of Babe’s in the Hall.
It made the impact of the day all the more poignant.
“I grew up tough, man. I grew up tough,” Ortiz said. “My childhood wasn’t so easy, but I had great parents to guide me and keep me out of trouble.”
A left-handed hitter, Ortiz was signed by Seattle as a teenager and then traded to Minnesota as a minor leaguer. He made his major league debut with the Twins in 1997, but there were no hints of a future Hall of Famer. He was released in 2002 then signed by Boston and his career took off.
However, these six years with the Twins remain anchored in his mind. When he entered the Plaque Gallery, Ortiz walked over to Kirby Puckett’s plaque and took a selfie in front.
Puckett, who died of a stroke in 2006, was in Minnesota’s front office and developed a close friendship with Ortiz upon his arrival. Ortiz wore number 34 with the Red Sox in honor of Puckett, who wore the Twins’ number.
Asked about the selfie, Ortiz put a hand over his eyes and looked down, able to respond with just four words as tears welled up in his eyes.
“He was my guy,” he said.
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