ST. PETERSBURG — Sunday night, Rays shortstop Willy Adames was on the team’s charter flight, returning from a winning series in Boston, when a little of his world dropped to the pit of his stomach.
“I almost cried,” Adames said.
David Ortiz, the iconic, smiling, open-armed Red Sox legend and worldwide baseball ambassador and treasure, was shot at a nightclub in his native Dominican Republic.
The Red Sox sent a plane to fly Ortiz to Boston for more treatment. Ortiz’s organs were damaged, including his liver. Doctors removed his gall bladder and part of his intestines and colon during surgery. But the accused shooter, who was beaten by a crowd outside the club, apparently missed one vital organ.
“He’ll be okay. Papi is strong. His heart is strong,” said Adames, who grew up in Santiago, Dominican Republic.
The incident sent tremors down baseball’s spine. It went far beyond Ortiz’s 541 home runs and 1,768 RBIs in a 20-year career, which ended with his retirement after the 2016 season. Oritz was on a lot of minds Monday before the Rays defeated the Oakland A’s at Tropicana Field.
“Sickening,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash, who played with Ortiz two different times, including Boston’s 2007 world championship season. “I called (Red Sox) manager Alex Cora right when I got off the plane. From what I hear, happy to hear everything is okay. Pretty special person, special teammate, special friend, special to baseball.”
Prayers for Papi.
Ortiz was the guy who made you like him even as he beat you. He hit 53 homers off the Rays, more than anyone other than Alex Rodriguez, but didn’t inspire A-Rod hate. Even Yankees fans, their team beaten from behind by Boston in the 2004 ALCS, have a hard time mustering anti-Papi feelings.
“You can’t hate Papi,” Adames said. “His personality, you just embraced it.”
He was David Ortiz, a leader, a laugher, an inspiration in everything he did on the field or in the community. There was Ortiz, grabbing the microphone, standing up for his adopted city after the marathon bombings in 2013. Boston Strong.
And then there is back home, where Ortiz routinely received votes in presidential elections. His clout in his country is Ruthian, save for that crazy guy with the gun.
“What can I tell you?” Adames said. “Papi is one of the biggest persons we have in the country. I feel like ashamed that it happened there. David Ortiz, in the DR is a god. If I talked him, I’d have to keep my head bowed out of respect.”
Said Oakland outfielder Ramon Laureano, who grew up in Santa Domingo: “Oh, my god, he’s everything. He’s a national ambassador for what’s good in baseball. He’s my hero.”
There is, as of now, no motive in Ortiz’s shooting. Laureano has a friend who was also shot, in the leg, during the incident. It’s easy to point to third-world problems in the Dominican Republic and beyond. Remember when former Rays catcher Wilson Ramos was kidnapped for two days in his native Venezuela?
“There are bad people everywhere,” said Rays pitcher Diego Castillo.
Think about it. Ortiz could have been shot in this country, in a nightclub. Just ask anyone in Orlando. People get shot here for no good reason, in nightclubs, on street corners, at elementary schools.
Things happen. Bad things.
On Ortiz’s last trip to Tropicana Field in his farewell season, the Rays were set to honor Ortiz, like Yankees legends Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera before him. But Ortiz asked that the ceremony be abandoned. Marlins pitcher and former Alonso star Jose Fernandez had died in a boat accident early that morning. Ortiz fought his tears. It was always about more than the games.
Willy Adames smiled.
“I met him in spring training this year,” Adames said. “I just told him he was one of my idols. He just laughed and gave me an advice. And a hug.”
Contact Martin Fennelly at email@example.com or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly.