Baseball, as George Carlin observed in words far wryer than you’ll find here, is the one game that ostensibly could play for infinity, inning after inning and one more beyond that, until the score is settled and victor is established. Only then may it end.
There’s no time limit, no finite overtime, and definitely no hockey-style skills competition to determine a sort-of-winner. And it’s certainly not like football. No, it’s the opposite, as Carlin told us:
Football has the two minute warning. Baseball has no time limit. We don’t know when it’s gonna end.
That is the truth and some of its appeal, at least on a daily basis. The game, the single game, can play on forever. But in the grander scheme, the clock always wins. Even in baseball.
A season ends, sometimes in September’s silence, in the most cherished of years with a parade. A career ends, often in a barely-noticed line of agate in the transactions; only the most celebrated depart with prolonged fanfare and goofy gifts.
A new season begins, a new hope arrives. Time and old ballplayers move on. A baseball game can go on forever. But most everything around and about baseball changes over time. It all gets old eventually.
Well, almost all. Friday afternoon at Fenway Park, for the third time in a decade after a barren eight-and-half decades prior, the Red Sox celebrated a championship secured the previous October with a ring ceremony that struck the perfect tone between celebration and catharsis, happiness and homage.
At the center of it was one player, one charismatic man with a heart bigger than his swing whom we hope against hope never does get old.
The beloved and ailing former mayor Thomas Menino threw out the first pitch. New mayor Marty Walsh, already proving a graceful leader in a time of tragedy, delivered a strike of his own. But if there was any takeaway to be found in Friday’s ceremony — beyond an affirming but eye-welling reminder of the braveness of the marathon bombing survivors, first-responders, and firefighters — it is this:
The real mayor of Boston is one David Americo Ortiz.
Forget his 1 for 4 performance from the No. 3 spot in the Red Sox lineup, a 6-2 loss to that great traditional rival, the Milwaukee Brewers. If there’s ever a time when a ballgame is justifiably anticlimactic, it was Friday. The Red Sox are supposed to put last season behind them — in ’14, they’re starting from the top and now they’re here — but not before one more salute, not just to what they accomplished, but to the best of the city they represent.
Dr. Charles Steinberg, the maestro and mastermind of these celebrations, got it right again, and that cannot be an easy thing to do. Opening Day 2005 was the completion of the catharsis, the blueprint for how to celebrate. Finally, the championship flag we thought we may never see was draped over the Green Monster. Derek Lowe and Dave Roberts came back to celebrate one last time with the teammates they’d left behind. Mariano Rivera was in on the joke, the ever-gracious most-respected opponent. It could never be better.
Yet in 2008 — the tribute to the unsung machine that the ’07 champs became — it was pretty damn close. The tears in Bill Buckner’s eyes told us that the forgiveness sent his way so long ago finally had reached him. Johnny Pesky was still with us. Ol’ Yaz even managed a couple of smiles. It was a swell time, original enough from three years prior to stand alone.
But this? This today? Well, I wondered. It would easy for it to devolve into saccharine sentiment. It would be easy to be redundant. Instead, it was perfect. Perfect. And if you could not see it that way, it’s time to wipe the clouding cynicism from your eyes.
When the Red Sox received their rings, Ben Cherington led the way, a New Hampshire kid’s dream fulfilled. John Farrell ambled out behind him. Ryan Dempster, who was last seen here playing ball in the company of friends, family and perhaps a cold beverage or two in the wee hours of October, walked out with his young son. The loudest roars went to Dustin Pedroia and Koji Uehara, and in a nod toward a bright future that is fast becoming the present, the phenom Xander Bogaerts.
And of course, Papi. The last player introduced, he wore creative bling to envy, two rings on a chain around his neck. He then doubled his collection, receiving two more from the ownership handshake line — the bonus ring commemorated his status as the World Series Most Valuable Player. He’s gonna need a bigger chain.
But this wasn’t just about what was accomplished last October, Ortiz’s ridiculous .688 batting average in the World Series and all of his words and actions along the way. This was bigger, more meaningful.
It wasn’t just about triumphant baseball, but how baseball intertwines with Boston. It matters here, especially when it seems like it shouldn’t.
From Ortiz, there would be no “This is our [expletive] city” speeches Friday, no reenactment of his tone-perfect rallying cry during the first home game last spring after the marathon bombing. What he did Friday was subtler, but no less special.
As the ceremony continued, with Dr. Charles striking every perfect note, even with the quirky — here’s Mark Recchi, Menino driver extraordinaire, and there’s surprise Celtics rep Leon Powe, looking like he could drop 21 in 15 minutes on the Lakers tonight. Ortiz did not play the leading role. He was in the ultimate supporting role, and of course it suited him just as well.
He had a warm hug and a word for everyone who approached him, whether it was a firefighter from Engine 33, Ladder 15 or a heartbroken person who was even closer to Edward Walsh and Michael Kennedy, the heroic men who died in last week’s Beacon Street fire.
When the firefighters lowered the new championship flag to half-mast — perhaps the most elegant moment of the entire day — Ortiz was there again to greet them with an embrace. He gives off the genuine, unifying vibe of having a lifelong friend in every direction he turns. It is the best thing about the man.
Even before the ceremony, as the marathon bombing survivors and first responders entered to “Lean On Me” before, then walked in front of the Red Sox dugout for a mutual greeting, it was Ortiz who smiled the widest, who opened his arms the widest.
If you saw little Jane Richard pirouetting to show off her Pedroia jersey, then moments later greeting the Red Sox with such comfort, like they’ve been walking beside her all her life … well, I don’t know how you don’t cry remembering it, let alone witnessing it.
The necessary acknowledgment of tragedy — even accompanied by a tribute to extraordinary resiliency — is an element of these ceremonies that hopefully are not part of future celebrations. But the Red Sox — Dr. Charles and Big Papi and everyone else involved before the ballgame — got the delicate tonal balance absolutely right.
Such celebrations of championships? Well, they’ll never get old. You hope David Ortiz, the slugging soul of our city, never does either. But we know better. The game waits for no one, and ballplayers come and go.
It’s the men in uniform who own the lasting legacies. But the reminder of why this team matters so much in this city. It was so evident right there on the Fenway lawn this afternoon, and it’s right there in Carlin’s last words about the game we love:
In baseball, the object is to go home, and to be safe. I hope I’ll be safe at home — safe at home.