COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — Decked out in a white designer jogging suit, David Ortiz joyfully took his orientation visit around the Baseball of Fame on Monday, expressing his awe for Ted Williams, his gratitude for Kirby Puckett and his amazement at so many of the artifacts he got to put his hands on.
In his uniquely Big Papi element, Ortiz made sure to pose for a photo with a high school baseball team from Easton, Pa., that happened to be touring the Hall of Fame after their doubleheader got rained out.
At one moment, Ortiz was gushing about the size of Babe Ruth’s bat. “His bat was 36 inches and 40 ounces? I don’t think you could do that now.”
At the next, he was looking at a display case for Cy Young while noting, “There wasn’t anyone who did it better than Cy Young.”
Then, he would bump into one of the kids or parents from the high school team and pose for a selfie.
This was Ortiz’s warm-up act for July 24, when he will be formally inducted as a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Being surrounded by walls filled with recognition of immortals was a special thing for Ortiz.
“I know what it takes for those guys to be where they’re at,” Ortiz said. “It seems when you first begin, the last thing that you’re thinking of is being part of that pack, because it’s extremely difficult but here we are. Here we are.”
Ortiz’s only previous experience in Cooperstown was when the Red Sox played the Tigers in the 2005 Hall of Fame Game at Doubleday Field. And the team didn’t have a chance to see the museum.
Papi made up for that on Monday, seeing everything from the introductory movie that all fans watch upon entry to the Hall to most of the exhibits and down to the basement where many special artifacts are kept, and those VIP guests who get to see them need to wear white gloves to touch them — as Ortiz did Monday.
The look on Ortiz’s face as he held the bat Williams used to hit a homer in his final Major League at-bat was priceless. Moments before, Ortiz was swinging a Babe Ruth bat.
Some of the Hall of Fame officials warned Ortiz to be careful when he swung so he wouldn’t damage the precious collectible he was holding.
“Don’t worry, I know how to handle this,” quipped Ortiz.
Ortiz, a lefty slugger who belted 483 of his career 541 homers for Boston, volunteered why he’d pick Williams over Ruth if he had to choose.
“To go to war a couple of times and be out there for a couple of years and come back and rake, that isn’t human,” Ortiz said. “I don’t care what anybody says. You get out of the game like that under those conditions and come back, basically just [play baseball] like it was normal, he was a unique human being. I would love to know what was going through his mind coming back and playing the game.”
Williams missed three full seasons (1943-45) while serving in World War II and most of the ’52 and ’53 seasons during the Korean War.
While Ortiz never got to meet Williams, he had personal connections with many of the other plaques he made sure to visit on Monday.
The one Ortiz made sure to see was Puckett, the late Twins legend who was the reason Ortiz wore No. 34 in Boston.
While Ortiz was coming up to the Majors with the Twins, Puckett’s career had just ended due to a severe right eye injury. As Puckett moved to a front-office role, he pumped a young Ortiz full of confidence.
The first time Ortiz referenced Puckett during his visit was when he saw a Willie McCovey display.
“Kirby Puckett used to call me Willie McCovey,” said Ortiz.
I was just a kid. He said that I swung like Willie McCovey when I was coming up.”
The only time Ortiz cried Monday was when he was asked about Puckett just moments after he had gone to visit his plaque.
“Just seeing Kirby’s face on his plaque, I started thinking about a lot of things,” said Ortiz. “Kirby was 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. But he cared about me. That’s what life is all about.”
Ortiz took a selfie when he walked up to Pedro Martinez’s plaque.
“That’s my compadre,” Ortiz said numerous times of Martinez on Monday.
When Ortiz saw the 2004 Red Sox display that had a mention of Curt Schilling’s bloody-sock greatness, he instantly got back into a time machine.
“I was there when he had his surgery right in the middle of the clubhouse,” said Ortiz. “I took off running when I saw all the blood. I can’t believe people questioned that it was really blood.”
Ortiz was unfazed when he saw his own mementos on display, such as his bat from his World Series MVP performance in 2013.
But he made it clear what his upcoming honor means to him.
“All of a sudden, your face is going to be out there hanging with another 339 guys,” said Ortiz. “You think about the amazing number of baseball players who have played the game. And it’s what, one percent of the players in the history of the game that made it to that wall? It is amazing.”