Tomase: Ortiz's presence at 2013 reunion a reminder of Red Sox' decline


The 2013 World Series champions returned to Fenway Park this weekend to celebrate the 10th anniversary not only of their title, but the integral role they played in helping the city heal after the Marathon bombings.

Shane Victorino threw BP to Jon Lester's kids. Manager John Farrell shared a bear hug with former third base coach Brian Butterfield, the Maine native decked out in a Patriots sweatshirt. Koji Uehara traded high-fives with his vintage gusto.

The main attraction strolled in a little late, the fans noticing before his old teammates.

"Papi!" came the screams from the box seats as David Ortiz emerged from the dugout in a winter hat, puffy black jacket, designer shades, and faded pink jeans, with silver crosses hanging from each ear.

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Ortiz will forever be associated not just with Boston, but with what he meant to the city a decade ago. From his cathartically profane speech in the first game back after the bombing, to his grand slam in the American League Championship Series that made a folk hero out of bullpen cop Steve Horgan, to his MVP performance and pivotal dugout speech in the World Series win over the Cardinals, Ortiz put the city on his back.

It's hard to imagine a baseball player captivating Boston that way again.

"To me, I felt this way as a coach and certainly a manager with him, he's one of the last true superstars," Farrell said. "People gravitated to him, and the things he did that people never really saw away from the field, he was larger than life and still is to this day."

Today's Red Sox have an identity problem. Outside of Rafael Devers, there's not a single recognizable star on the team. Chris Sale used to be that guy, but he's struggling. Brayan Bello or Triston Casas or Marcelo Mayer may one day get there, if they're lucky. The rest of the roster is what Dennis Eckersley might call a hodgepodge of nothingness.

Ortiz commanded our attention through the force of his ability and personality. He keyed three World Series runs, his back-to-back walkoffs against the Yankees during the comeback in the 2004 ALCS enough to make him an icon on their own, but he added to his resume anyway.

He set a Red Sox record for home runs with 54 in 2006. He hit .332 en route a title a year later. He was a one-man wrecking crew against the Cardinals while hitting .688 in the 2013 World Series. When a moment arrived, Ortiz inevitably met it.

"To this day, I thank the Cardinals for continuing to pitch to Ortiz," Farrell said. "It wasn't until Game 5 when they said, 'You know what? We'll finally walk him.'"

The game has changed. Yankees slugger Aaron Judge and Angels unicorn Shohei Ohtani are the sport's biggest stars, but not only has neither won a World Series, Ohtani hasn't even made the playoffs. Perhaps the pitch clock will make the game more embraceable and create another instantly recognizable superstar, but as it stands now, the last of that breed was Ortiz and his Yankees counterpart, Derek Jeter.

Ortiz meant so much to Boston, you can legitimately mention his name alongside that of Tom Brady, who's merely the winningest player in NFL history. Ortiz, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame last summer, has only been retired for seven years, but his career already feels like a lifetime ago.

"Winning a title is forever," said Jonny Gomes. "It's the only anniversary in baseball. You don't do anniversaries of batting titles, Cy Youngs, and MVPs. The only anniversary is winning."

Ortiz will get to celebrate lots of reunions, then. Next year will mark 20 years since 2004. After that will be the 20th anniversary of '07. This Patriots Day weekend is all about 2013, however, and that means Victorino, and Mike Napoli, and Dustin Pedroia, and Gomes, and Daniel Nava, and Uehara, and Lester, and so many others, but first and foremost, it means Ortiz.

It always will.

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