Ortiz overwhelmed by visit to Hall of Fame

Written by: Bill Francis

David Ortiz was in the Hall of Fame Plaque Gallery, trying to take it all in and make sense of where he was and what it all meant.

“This is like a dream come true to be honest with you,” the awestruck slugger said. “I still can’t believe. It’s gonna take me a minute to get there. This is it. This is it.”

The Hall of Fame Class of 2022 member was in Cooperstown for his Orientation Visit afforded all new electees on May 2. He was wrapping up an afternoon of touring the Museum and was now taking questions from the assembled media, a half-dozen cameras recording his every word.

“Man, it has been a long road. This is my first time ever being in this room and when you walk around you get goosebumps,” an amazed Ortiz said. “As a kid, you know, it’s like these guys in this room, you look at a them and you’re like, ‘Wow!’ It’s impossible to be thought of as one of them. That’s what it seems like, especially when you know where I come from.

“But it’s an extreme honor. You’re talking about the greatest players that ever played the game. It’s a huge accomplishment. I still can’t believe it.”

In introducing Ortiz, Hall of Fame Chairman Jane Forbes Clark put the achievement in proper perspective.

“Here in our Plaque Gallery we are surrounded by 333 total plaques, 268 of them honoring the legendary careers of baseball’s legendary players,” Clark said. “Only one percent of all the men who ever played Major League Baseball are so honored in this Hall. And come July 24, David, your plaque will be right here with the members of our team, your new team.”

It was around this time that Ortiz signed the plaque backer where his Hall of Fame plaque will be placed this summer, and Clark and Hall of Fame President Josh Rawitch helped him put on his new Hall of Fame jersey.

Ortiz received 307 of the 394 votes cast for a percentage of 77.9 in results announced on Jan. 25. Candidates must appear on at least 75 percent of all ballots cast to earn election.

Asked when he began to think he had a shot for election to the Hall of Fame, Ortiz claimed it was when he could see 500 career home runs on the horizon.

“Once I hit my 400th somebody started having a conversation with me about it and I was like, ‘Let me try to take care of myself better to see if I can get it.’ And once I started getting closer to 500 home runs and all the accomplishments that I basically was able to put together throughout my career the talk about it increased,” Ortiz said. “That’s when you really start paying attention. But once I retired I kind of got on board about it.

“And then once the voting has started kicking in I started getting into it once again. But I knew I had a pretty good career and I knew I left skin on the field, doing whatever it took to win championships and represent Boston. And it worked.”

The 46-year-old native of the Dominican Republic became the 58th player elected to the Hall of Fame on his first Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot. The Hall of Fame Class of 2022 – which included six electees from a pair of Era Committees – will be inducted on Sunday, July 24, in Cooperstown.

Ortiz joins Pedro Martínez, Juan Marichal and Vladimir Guerrero as the only Dominican-born members of the Hall of Fame.

“We have a country where we breathe baseball. We have a country where I walk around and every kid that I see me says they want to be like you,” Ortiz said. “I’m pretty sure that’s what also happens with Pedro with Mr. Juan Marichal and with Vladdy. You’re a role model for those kids.

“You definitely commit yourself to try to get things done the right way because you got so many kids that want to be like you. It’s something that is a challenge because we are imperfect, but you’ve got to try your best for those kids to begin to be like you.”

A feared left-handed slugger who performed his best on the biggest stage, winning three World Championships, Ortiz played in the majors for 20 seasons (1997-2016), spending his first six seasons with the Twins before signing a free agent deal with the Red Sox prior to the 2003 campaign.

A 10-time All-Star, seven-time winner of the Silver Slugger Award as a designated hitter and on eight-time winner of the Edgar Martinez Outstanding Designated Hitter Award, Ortiz ended his career with 541 home runs, 1,768 runs batted in, 1,419 runs scored, 632 doubles, 2,472 hits, a .286 batting average, a .380 on-base percentage and a .552 slugging percentage. He finished in the top 10 in AL MVP voting seven times.

When Ortiz first entered the Plaque Gallery, with dozens of young ballplayers rained out from their game this day following his every move, the new Hall of Famer made sure to check out the bronze images of Martínez, Frank Thomas, Kirby Puckett and a few others.

Asked later why he made sure to see Puckett’s plaque, a very emotional Ortiz replied, “That was my guy …,” before spending a few seconds wiping his eyes. He had explained earlier that he had a developed a bond with Puckett when the Twins great was in the team’s front office and Ortiz was a young player.

Having spent approximately 90 minutes on his Museum tour, Ortiz would explain that seeing all the artifacts donated by players throughout the years connects you with them.

“I’m pretty sure that every baseball player either alive or having passed away, we have that type of connection with them,” he said. “I remember after we won the 2004 World Series, the Hall of Fame came and asked me about donating something. ‘For the Hall of Fame? Heck yeah!’ This is the place it should be.

“But now that you walk around and see it you have that connection where you’re like, ‘Wow! I’m so glad I did.’ Now I’m proud of it. And now I can walk around and be like, ‘This is super cool.’”

As for the tour led by Erik Strohl, the Hall’s vice president of exhibitions and collections, it exposed Ortiz to baseball history dating back to the 1840s through the present.

Inquisitive, surprised and trying to soak it all in along the way, Ortiz noticed Honus Wagner batted over .300 17 consecutive seasons (“That’s hard to do.”), saw a Babe Ruth bat with notches in it representing homers (“I don’t think you can do that.”), took in a pair of Honey Boy Evans trophies (“I don’t think I have room for one of those in my house.”) and read about Cy Young (“751 complete games!”).

In collections storage, Ortiz swung bats used by Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Mike Trout and Wagner, held a Pedro Martínez cap, was reunited with the batting gloves he donated from when he hit his 400th home run, and gripped the ball that first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz caught for the final out of the 2004 World Series to end a long championship drought (“You got it! That was a big deal.”).

With the Red Sox, with whom Ortiz would play the final 14 seasons of his career, he helped the franchise, which had gone since 1918 without a World Series title, to a trio of Fall Classic crowns in 2004, 2007 and 2013. Overall, he would help lead Boston to the postseason eight times, taking home Most Valuable Player honors in both the 2004 American League Championship Series and the 2013 World Series.

Bill Francis is the senior research and writing specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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