BOSTON — From the five-story David Ortiz banner outside Gate D, to the many signs of thanks inside Fenway Park, to the design mowed into the outfield grass depicting the retiring slugger making his trademark point-to-the-sky after a home run, it’s clear what this weekend is about for the Boston Red Sox and their fans.
While appreciative of the praise and thanks he has received along the way, the man of the hour knows that more pressing matters are at hand.
“This weekend we’re just going to prepare for the playoffs,” Ortiz said prior to Friday’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays that begins the final regular-season series of his career.
The Sox are planning to celebrate Ortiz with ceremonies before all three games of the series. Then the team will march into the eighth postseason of the Ortiz era, at which point all the pomp and circumstance will give way to what he does best.
“It has [been a distraction], I’m not going to lie to you, it has,” Ortiz said when asked about trying to focus amid the steady stream of well-wishers and ceremonies. “The good thing is we’re already in the playoffs, so for the next three days, I don’t really have to worry about it. But the best thing about it is once we walk into the playoffs, there’s not going to be all these distractions because I like to be focused, especially when I am playing for a reason.
“We work extremely hard during the regular season to get to the playoffs, and I don’t want to blow that off. It’s not easy, going through all these things and playing baseball at the same time. It can cause distractions, but we are at the end of it. So, going to try to enjoy these three days and be ready to play in the playoffs.”
The organization will be marking a particular aspect of Ortiz’s large personality each of the three days. Friday’s ceremony focused on Ortiz’s charitable efforts, including those that have led to life-saving heart surgeries for hundreds of kids in the Dominican Republic and the United States. During Friday’s celebration, Ortiz personally greeted several of the kids who had those operations.
Ortiz is expected in the lineup for the entirety of all three games this weekend. He wants to be clicking on all cylinders when the postseason arrives, and recent results suggest he could use a few more reps — he was 0-for-10 with four strikeouts in a three-game series at Yankee Stadium this week.
The big man hinted that he hoped manager John Farrell would get everyone in gear before the playoffs commence.
“I want everybody to be on the right track,” he said. “I don’t know how John is going to play it out with the lineup these next three days, but we know that you want to walk into the playoffs with a fire, the energy that the playoffs will be asking for. We’re going to play the game the way it’s supposed to be played the next three days.”
Ortiz didn’t just look ahead, however. He took some time to ponder some of his great moments in Fenway Park, calling the walk-off homer in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS — which ignited Boston’s historic rally from a 3-0 series deficit — his finest moment.
“That kind of put us back on track,” Ortiz said. “It gave us the opportunity to go back to New York and finish them up over there and win the World Series that everyone was expecting for the last 86 years. That’s the one at-bat that I never forgot about. I always look at that at-bat like it was yesterday.”
That moment will likely be feted — along with many others — either before Saturday’s or Sunday’s game, when his on-field heroics are celebrated. Then, the Sox will turn to Ortiz to lead them one more time through October’s gauntlet, which is what he’s waiting for.
“We’re just getting prepared for the playoffs, and to me, that’s a big deal,” he said.