It was David Ortiz’s radiant smile and outsize personality as much as his prowess at the plate that made the burly designated hitter one of the most popular players to come out of the Dominican Republic or to wear the uniform of the Boston Red Sox.
And as Ortiz, wounded by an assailant’s bullet in Santo Domingo on Sunday night, flew from his native country to the city where his legend was built — and where his treatment will continue — fans and well-wishers in both places hoped for the best for the 43-year-old ex-slugger known as Big Papi.
Ortiz, who retired in 2016 after a 20-year playing career, was shot in the back at close range around 8:50 p.m. Sunday, in what was described as an ambush-style attack, as he sat at a streetside table at a bar and restaurant in the Dominican capital. Rushed to a nearby clinic, he reportedly underwent six hours of surgery to remove his gall bladder and parts of his intestine. Doctors also reported damage to his liver.
By Monday afternoon, Ortiz was in good enough condition that medical personnel prepared him to fly to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston on a private plane sent by the Red Sox, for whom he still works as a special assistant.
“David’s condition is still serious, but he is stable enough to be transported back here to Boston,” Red Sox president and chief executive Sam Kennedy said at a news conference Monday at Fenway Park.
The plane carrying Ortiz landed in Boston on Monday night, according to ESPN’s report. He was taken to a local hospital for treatment, with his ambulance getting a police escort.
Ortiz’s media assistant, Leo Lopez, told reporters the slugger is “out of danger” and in stable condition but would be in intensive care for 24 hours. He said Ortiz was heavily sedated but woke up Monday morning and spoke briefly to family members.
Two others were wounded in the attack at the Dial Bar and Lounge, including Jhoel Lopez, a prominent Dominican television host who was with Ortiz at the time and was believed to have been struck by the same bullet that struck Ortiz, according to police officials in Santo Domingo. Lopez was hit in the thigh. In a security video of the attack, Ortiz is seen sitting at a table as the shooter approaches from behind, shoots once and attempts to flee.
Dionisio Soldevila, a reporter and radio host who spoke to the doctors who first treated Ortiz, told ESPN that the slugger begged the doctors: “Please don’t let me die. I’m a good man.”
Ortiz retired in 2016 as arguably the greatest designated hitter in history — and among the most popular Red Sox players in history — following a 20-year career that included 541 home runs, 10 all-star appearances, three World Series titles and a World Series MVP award. He is likely to be voted to the Baseball Hall of Fame when he hits the ballot for the first time in 2022.
“David was probably the most beloved and one of the most important players in our history, leading us to multiple world championships,” Kennedy told reporters in Boston. “I’d be hard-pressed to think of anyone more beloved than David. And you can imagine how this has impacted the Red Sox organization. it’s a very difficult day for the organization.”
“He’s a superhero without a cape,” said Red Sox Manager Alex Cora, Ortiz’s teammate in Boston for parts of four seasons. “He’ll be back in the clubhouse with that big smile and that huge heart.”
Cora, Kennedy, owner John Henry and president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski addressed the Red Sox team ahead of a home game Monday night. A “moment of reflection, thought and prayer” was held at Fenway Park in Boston before action got underway.
“All of us were shocked by last night’s news about David Ortiz, and our community has felt a palpable concern ever since,” Red Sox announcer Henry Mahegan told the Boston crowd. “As befits his outsized personality, wishes for a speedy recovery have poured in from all over baseball, from the world of sports and even from respected world leaders. He is loved throughout our nation and beyond, yet to us he is our own adopted son.”
Signed by the Red Sox in 2003, after being released by the Minnesota Twins, Ortiz quickly became the emotional leader of those championship Red Sox teams. He helped key the famed comeback over the New York Yankees in the 2004 American League Championship Series — in which the Red Sox made history as the first team to overcome a 3-0 series deficit — and the subsequent World Series title, which snapped an 86-year championship drought for the franchise.
In April 2013, following the Boston Marathon massacre, Ortiz made a defiant speech to the crowd at Fenway Park, saying, “This is our [expletive] city, and nobody is going to dictate our freedom.” When the Red Sox won their third World Series title in 10 years that fall, Ortiz was named the series MVP.
“When we needed David the most, he was there for us,” Kennedy said of the 2013 bombing and Ortiz’s speech. “It’s expected and appropriate this community would rally around David when he needs us the most. [The incident] shocked us to the core.”
Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martinez, who helped Ortiz and the Red Sox win it all in 2004, grew emotional while discussing his close friend Monday on MLB Network.
“I’m so disappointed to know that someone like David, who saved so many lives, can have someone [go] after his life,” Martinez said, wiping tears from his eyes. “I’m sorry, but it hurts me. It hurts me.”
“Whoever works, whoever gets to any job wants to get to where David got — to success in life, to be a role model, to be that person that everybody wants to see and wants to hug — and to see someone want to take his life away, in such a coward way, it bothers me deeply,” he added.
Ortiz’s standing in New England and across baseball was evident in the outpouring of support for him on social media Monday, from the likes of former president Barack Obama, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and current MLB stars Mike Trout and Alex Bregman.
“Six years ago, David Ortiz’s spirit and resolve helped us all begin to heal from the Boston Marathon bombing,” said the message on Twitter from Obama — with whom Ortiz took a much-shared selfie during the Red Sox’s White House visit six months after the 2013 championship. “Today, I want to join many others in wishing him a speedy recovery of his own. Get well soon, Papi.”
Drea Cornejo contributed to this report, which has been updated.