After receiving one of the most unique opportunities of my career on Monday — the chance to tour the Baseball Hall of Fame with David Ortiz — I was left with a few takeaways on how the experience impacted Big Papi.
Ortiz’s official induction into baseball’s most elite club in Cooperstown, N.Y., will take place on July 24.
On Monday, Ortiz got his feet wet in the museum he will be part of forever going forward. It was aptly called “an orientation visit,” and Ortiz was able to soak it in.
All visitors to the Hall of Fame are directed to start their day in a theater for a 15-minute movie that captures the essence of what it is like to be an all-time great baseball player. This is how the day started for Papi, and he was enraptured as he listened to greats like Reggie Jackson, George Brett, Tom Seaver, Cal Ripken Jr., Mariano Rivera, Hank Aaron and others talk about what made them tick.
Ortiz, clearly moved by the presentation, clapped when it ended.
“I’m glad I saw that. A lot of people, they don’t know what is going through our minds while we played,” said Ortiz.
When Brett said in his clip that he wanted to be the best player on the field every time he played, Ortiz immediately perked up.
“At the end of the day, I wanted to be the best guy,” Ortiz said. “When I played, especially in my time in Boston, I wanted to be the whole talk. That’s what George Brett said right there. I wanted to be that one guy. I just wanted to be that good. I watched this movie and I got in it.”
The late Seaver noted during the movie that people are instructed not to touch the plaques in the gallery at the Hall of Fame. But Seaver admitted he always touched his own plaque during his yearly visits. And he would also tap Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson, two pitchers who inspired him to be who he was.
“By the way, Tom Seaver was my pitcher in my Nintendo game when I was a kid. I used to fight with my boy to be Tom Seaver,” laughed Ortiz. “But what he said, I feel exactly the same about certain players. Like Kirby Puckett was my guy. I had that commitment because of him.”
It is well known how much Ortiz respected Puckett. After all, he wore No. 34 when he got to the Red Sox out of respect for the late Twins outfielder, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2001. But on Monday, Ortiz shed light into personal anecdotes of where the love came from.
The only time Ortiz cried during his visit to Cooperstown was when asked about his visit to Puckett’s plaque. When Ortiz broke into the big leagues with the Twins, Puckett was at the Metrodome frequently as a member of the front office.
“Seeing Kirby, once I saw his face on that plaque, I started thinking about a lot of things,” Ortiz said. “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. I don’t care about you because you are someone or because you have something. I care about the human being. That, to me, means a lot. That’s what he did for me. He was fun to be around. That’s why I was very emotional when I thought about him.”
Best of the best
Following a joyful and emotional day in Cooperstown, Ortiz left with the knowledge he would be back not just in July, but forever after that.
“All of a sudden, your face is going to be out there hanging with another 339 guys out of an amazing number of baseball players that have played the game. It’s what, one percent of the players in the history of the game that made it to that wall? It is amazing,” said Ortiz.