BOSTON (AP) — Get ready for the ultimate Big Papi walkoff.
David Ortiz is retiring after the season, but not before he takes a farewell tour of the major leagues that should allow him to fill a couple of closets with gifts from opponents who were reluctant to face him and glad to see him go. But even as his longtime opponents try to fete the foe who upended so many ninth-inning leads, the Red Sox designated hitter says he also wants to thank the fans — including those who rooted against him.
“Whatever team you’re cheering for — you’re supporting me because you are a baseball fan,” Ortiz said this spring as he looked ahead to his farewell tour. “So I’m going to show my appreciation to everyone.”
Ortiz announced on his 40th birthday in November that 2016 would be his final season. Since then, the Red Sox have been planning a going-away party befitting the player who helped end their 86-year dynasty of disappointment and lead the franchise to three World Series titles.
The festivities started this week in Fort Myers, Florida, where a street outside the team’s spring ballpark was named “David Ortiz Way.” After his final home spring training game, Ortiz was chauffeured off the field in a specially decorated golf cart driven by Hall of Famer Jim Rice and former Red Sox pitcher Luis Tiant.
“I wasn’t expecting any of it, but it happened,” Ortiz said. “Whenever somebody comes to you with a gift, it’s always welcomed, right?”
Here are some other things to look for on Ortiz’s farewell tour:
THE FIRST LAST:
Ortiz homered in his final spring training at-bat on Thursday against Minnesota. After striking out and grounding out in his two scheduled plate appearances, he asked manager John Farrell for one more shot.
Both the Twins, who originally signed Ortiz, and Red Sox train in Fort Myers; he played a total of 342 Grapefruit League games there. He also played 62 games for the Fort Myers Miracle of the Class A Florida State League while coming up in the Twins organization.
“These are Fort Myers fans that support the Twins, support the Red Sox and I’ve been here for a while. I bet you a lot of these people watched me playing when I played for the Miracles down here,” Ortiz said. “I’m pretty sure they’re super happy with how my career has gone. You see a kid start and 20 years later, you see his career and being the way it has been, and then you get to see his last spring training game, and it’s something that makes it special.”
While opposing teams are planning their farewell gifts, the Red Sox will be showering their fans with Papi-themed giveaways throughout the season.
Ortiz’s team has five scheduled promotions centered around their departing DH, one each month through August: A necklace commemorating his 500th homer, a canvas print, a gnome, “build-a-Papi” and the requisite bobble head.
There’s no word yet on what other teams have planned for Ortiz’s final visit; the Red Sox don’t play in San Diego this year, so we can be spared the image of the 230-pound slugger trying to scramble onto a hand-painted surfboard.
It’s going to be an emotional final week for Ortiz, with a three-game series in New York against the archrival Yankees followed by the last series at Fenway Park, three games against Toronto that will wrap up the regular season on Oct. 2.
But the Red Sox are hoping to extend his career — through the World Series.
“To finish out with a ring for him, that’d mean a lot,” Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts said. “For him to go out with a bang like that would be very special.”
AP freelancer Maureen Mullen contributed to this story from Fort Myers, Florida.