Over his long career, retiring Boston slugger David Ortiz has established himself as a hero among baseball fans throughout Red Sox Nation. But there was a time when he wasn’t really sure where the borders to that nation were.
As a reporter for The Times Record 10 years ago, I went down to Fenway Park in Boston, using the team’s nominal Maine Day festivities as an excuse to justify a press visit.
I figured I’d poll the players about what they liked best about Maine, then write up a quick feature story about Red Sox stars gushing about our scenic coast or big game hunting or whatever.
And I knew some of the players would certainly have opinions about the state, as they’d played for the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs coming up through the minor leagues.
Famously abrasive pitcher Josh Beckett grumbled about how, during the summer he played for the Sea Dogs, it rained almost constantly. Then-closer Jonathan Papelbon shared fond memories of the Old Port and socializing at Gritty McDuff’s on Fore Street.
Then I approached Big Papi, who’d come up through the Minnesota Twins minor league system and I knew hadn’t played for the Sea Dogs. But he was an affable, approachable guy, lounging on the locker room sofa before stepping out for batting practice.
I didn’t expect Ortiz to be a certified Maine Guide, but I figured he might’ve taken a road trip up to a beach at some point or snuck off for a quiet weekend in Portland somewhere along the line. He had, at that point, been playing for the Red Sox just a few hours south of here for more than three years.
“Where?” he asked.
“Maine,” I repeated.
“Where’s that?” he asked casually.
I needed to start from scratch, it turned out. I explained it was a 90-minute drive up the highway from there and we’re known for having great seafood, among other things.
Papi, friendly as ever, shrugged and said he loved seafood. So there it was. He didn’t know about this “Maine” place I was yammering on about, but if there was some good lobster there, he was open to it.
That ended up being the humorous story of the day: Red Sox star David Ortiz admits he doesn’t know where Maine is on Maine Day.
The Associated Press picked up the story and distributed it far and wide, and John Baldacci, then the governor of Maine, read it. He promptly sent 40 Maine lobsters to the Fenway locker room to entice Papi — or any other Red Sox player — to come up and visit Vacationland.
Ortiz and his teammates gleefully accepted the lobster. Papelbon, by all accounts, gobbled up the most — three or four of them — and attributed the team’s victory that day to “Lobster Power.”
If Papi accepted Baldacci’s invitation to visit Maine, it wasn’t publicized. Then again, baseball players are typically pretty busy during the summer tourism season.
Ortiz did ultimately make it up to our state two years later, however, when he had a July 2008 rehab stint with the Sea Dogs while working his way back from a wrist injury.
In keeping with tradition, the generous Papi treated his temporary minor league teammates during his brief stay.
Sea Dogs President Charlie Eshbach told the Bangor Daily News afterward “he sprung for the spread all three nights he was here.”
Now that he’s retiring, maybe he can come back for a more leisurely visit. I bet we can drum up some more lobster for him. Now that he knows the way.