Baseball, Legends & Love

On Friday, June 23, I was fortunate to be among the Red Sox faithful who witnessed the retirement of David Ortiz’s uniform number. Fondly known as “Big Papi,” this larger-than-life star athlete was everything a fan could wish for: clutch player, fun-loving and through it all, remained humble and kind. David is yet another product of the Dominican Republic’s player talent pool and throughout his career, never forgot his homeland. Given my similar roots, I have always favored players from the DR, and of course, particularly those who help keep the home team atop the standings and in championship contention.

Baseball is all about patience and tradition. It takes hours to complete a nine-inning game and more than half a year to proceed from spring training through a World Series. Yet, the rewards for fans are short-lived; we get excited about a win but there’s usually another game within 24 hours. And championships certainly earn bragging rights, but again, they tend to be more impactful in that moment.

That fragile experience is exactly why players like Ortiz are special. Every time they step into the batter’s box, you anticipate a little magic. And quite often, they make the impossible happen. When they’re pushed into the limelight, they instinctually know exactly what to do. What Red Sox fan doesn’t have a mental image of Big Papi’s famous bear hugs or his emotional ballpark comments following the Boston Marathon bombing?

The David Ortiz experience came to an emotional climax last month when friends, family and fans gathered at Fenway to pay tribute to our local hero. The number 34 was ceremonially unveiled above right field, joining nine previous Red Sox and Jackie Robinson as eternal legacies. Several honored guests were invited to offer tributes including former teammates and fellow legends. The comments were festive but perhaps none more heartfelt than second baseman Dustin Pedroia’s observation that what meant most to the team was the great love Big Papi always shared with everyone in the dugout. That simple statement came just before Ortiz spoke to the crowd—and brought tears to his eyes and to those of many throughout the ballpark.

Looking back, we’re forever grateful for the many baseball memories but as every member of Red Sox Nation knows, David Ortiz will continue making us proud for many years to come. Here’s to you, #34!David-Ortiz-Number-Retirement

#FlytheW – Even if You’re Not From Chicago

What happened in 1908? As we all know, it was the last time the Chicago Cubs earned a World Series victory.  But did you also know it was also the year “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” – or baseball’s unofficial anthem – was written? Yes, these two significant baseball events share an anniversary that has withstood the test of time.

Of course, this year, Cubs fans everywhere hope to override that fact. Tonight the Chicago Cubs made history by hosting the first World Series game at Wrigley Field since 1945. They last took home the big prize with back-to-back victories in 1907 and 1908. Needless to say, the city has come to a standstill to savor this moment. As a Boston Red Sox fan, I totally get it – we waited 86 years for a World Series win and the excitement of that post-season was incomparable to any sporting experience I’ve ever had. Even though my team got bounced early this year, I’m very happy for Chicago Cubs fans everywhere.

I’ve been to Wrigley Field once, for a Sunday afternoon game in May 2015, and it’s as charming and iconic as you’d imagine. From the bar scene in Wrigleyville to the coveted bleacher seats atop the brownstones that ring the field, it’s a very special place. This weekend I’m confident getting close to that area has been impossible, except for those fortunate enough to score tickets or a bar stool. Yet, I’m also confident that the same electric ambiance is being felt all throughout Chicago – in bars, homes and streets everywhere.

While sports loyalties run deep, every once in a while, I think it’s okay to “root, root, root for another team” because they’ve demonstrated they deserve a chance to bring it home. With 103 wins this year, the Cubs eclipsed every other team in both leagues. 108 years is a lot longer than our 86; I hope 2016 is the Cubbies’ year. Of course, if 2017 is the Red Sox!

#FlytheW

#LetsGoMets!

There’s nothing like getting scolded on Facebook by your mother. And all because of a baseball team she doesn’t root for. It’s October – or World Series time – this year featuring the NY Mets and once again, the Kansas City Royals. After the Mets’ clinched their spot, she posted a congratulatory message on Facebook, closing with their battle cry “Let’s Go Mets!” Trust me, she was being a good sport as she’s longtime Yankees fanatic. But her good-sport sentiment made me think about how national championships stretch our sports brand loyalties.

The professional sports leagues have done a tremendous job creating must-watch events of their annual winner-takes-all final showdowns. Whether baseball, football, basketball or hockey, once the regular season winds up, fans whose teams are out of it have two choices – stop paying attention or pick someone else to cheer. The latter can follow league loyalties, so baseball fans may favor fellow American or National league contenders, or maybe geographic affinities, such as my mother’s Mets rally cry. Bottom line is this – fans love the overarching sports brand and once a year, willingly put aside emotional ties just to stay in the game experience. Is there any other brand that can make that claim?

So back to my Facebook scolding. I replied to my mother’s post with a passing comment about how those of us in Red Sox Nation had moved on to the NFL (yes, our beloved Pats are unbeaten!) and she called me out for being a bad sport. And you know what? She’s right.

Congratulations to all of you (non-Yankee) New York baseball fans. I am actually watching the World Series game and wish you the best. Lets go Mets!

NYM