by rebecca m. knight | December 4, 2013 | People
David Ortiz greets young Red Sox fans during the team’s batting practice at Fenway Park.
In Boston, Bill Belichick is profoundly respected, Tom Brady deeply envied, Rajon Rondo and Patrice Bergeron widely admired. But David Ortiz is loved.
Of course, there was his dazzling MVP-winning performance at the 2013 World Series. But even his missteps—and there have been a few—beg forgiveness. And not just by the fans. Everyone, from Tito Francona to John Farrell to the federal government, gives Big Papi a pass. Earlier this year, just five days after the Marathon bombings, Ortiz presided over an emotional crowd at Fenway Park with a heartfelt, “Don’t mess with our [expletive] city!” The Federal Communications Commission would ordinarily have slapped a hefty fine on someone dropping the F-bomb on national television. But Big Papi? “David Ortiz spoke from the heart at today’s Red Sox game,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said. “I stand with Big Papi and the people of Boston.”
Saul “Junior” Sanchez-Ruballos received medical assistance through the Children’s Fund.
So why is Big Papi our big crush? For one thing, he’s a helluva ballplayer. Ortiz is the best clutch hitter in Red Sox history—maybe in history, period. Over 17 years, Ortiz’s batting average hovers around .287; he is a nine-time All-Star, who, per the standard 162-game season, averages 35 home runs and 118 RBIs. Legions of Sox fans are eternally grateful to Ortiz for his heroics in the 2004, 2007, and 2013 World Series. (Ortiz continues to enjoy the highest batting average in World Series history, .465, and today he is the only remaining member of the Red Sox who was on all of those winning teams.) Beyond his superior slugger stats, though, Ortiz is known for some-thing else: David Ortiz gives back. Big.
The David Ortiz Children’s Fund—a charity he founded to provide critical health care to kids in both the Dominican Republic (his native country) and here in New England—has so far raised more than $2.5 million. And in December, that fundraising effort will kick up a notch when the David Ortiz Celebrity Golf Classic takes place in the Dominican Republic.
Ortiz chats with Pedro Martinez of the Red Sox at Ortiz’s annual golf fundraiser.
From December 12 through 15, Ortiz will host the sixth annual David Ortiz Celebrity Golf Classic in Punta Cana, a sparkling resort town in the Dominican Republic. The tournament—which, according to the New York Daily News is “a who’s who and VIP sports showcase”—is a magnet for athletic stars. In years past, Hall of Fame Celtic Bill Russell and Hall of Fame Bruin Bobby Orr have played, as have former Red Sox players Pedro Martinez and Johnny Damon, and Yankees players Mariano Rivera and Robinson Cano. “It’s something we’ve been doing for years,” says Big Papi. “It’s a beautiful place. It’s a lot of fun. We play golf, we party, we have a good time, and we raise a lot of money for kids who need it.”
The idea for the Children’s Fund came to him in 2005. Ortiz—who spends half of the off-season living in Santo Domingo—visited Cedimat Hospital to help cheer up children who had recently received lifesaving heart surgery. (No surprise, Ortiz is the ultimate hometown hero in his country.) As Ortiz toured the intensive care unit, he was overwhelmed by the resilience of the kids and also by the strength of their parents. “It was very touching,” recalls Ortiz, who himself has three children—Jessica, Alexandra, and D’Angelo. “I saw all these little kids that should have been outdoors having fun, getting dirty, and playing ball—being kids.” He left the hospital that day determined to help. “If you see a kid struggle with any kind of health issue, it’s sad. You want to do something about it. I had the financial opportunity to do it,” he says.
Dr. Peter Slavin receives a check on behalf of MassGeneral Hospital for Children from David Ortiz and his Children’s Fund at the foundation’s 2013 gala.
In 2007 he established the Children’s Fund for pediatric health care in the Dominican Republic; two years later, his fund formed an official partnership with MassGeneral Hospital for Children to provide resources for kids in New England who also need care. The alliance with MGH was only natural, according to Ortiz. After all: “Boston is my second home,” he says. To date, the charity has enabled hundreds of children in the Dominican Republic and New England to receive lifesaving heart surgery. “These kids are good to go,” says Ortiz. Dr. Ronald Kleinman, physician-in-chief of MassGeneral Hospital for Children, says that Big Papi is always “incredibly engaging” when he visits young patients at the hospital. “He makes time for them,” he says. “He gets down on their level—never talks down to them—and really connects. It’s clear he really cares about the children.”
In 2008, Ortiz received a UNICEF Children’s Champion Award. And in 2011, Major League Baseball gave Ortiz the Roberto Clemente Award, which recognizes the “player who best represents the game of baseball through positive contributions on and off the field, including sportsmanship and community involvement.” But recognition is not what motivates him. “I don’t really think about these awards—it’s not in my nature,” says Ortiz, in his trademark thick Spanish accent. “At the end of the day, what makes me happy is that these kids are getting good care and that they’re going to have a good life ahead of them.”
Tom Werner, John Henry, David Ortiz, Lenny Clarke, and Larry Lucchino at the Children’s Fund Gala in September 2013.
In September Ortiz hosted the inaugural Children’s Fund Gala, which was held at the Four Seasons’ Boston Ballroom. Many of the city’s biggest names in sports attended, including Aly Raisman, the Olympic gold medalist; John Henry, owner of the Boston Red Sox, and his wife, Linda Pizzuti Henry; and Larry Lucchino, president and CEO of the team. Several of Ortiz’s teammates—including Félix Doubrount, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Shane Victorino, and Craig Breslow—also showed up to offer support.
All told, the event brought in more than $100,000. Some of that money will go toward MGH’s Pediatric Trauma Program, which supports kids who have suffered traumatic injuries, as well as a new examination room in the hospital’s Pediatric Emergency Department, which is set to open in late spring 2014. Officials at MGH are also using the funds to develop collaborative training programs and other projects for healthcare professionals in the Dominican Republic.
The island-inspired celebration included a Dominican-themed cocktail reception with Latin dance entertainment. “It was a good night. There was great food and music, and it was really colorful,” says Ortiz. “And we raised a lot of money for the foundation, which is very much working in both countries.”
photography by michael ivins/boston red sox/getty images; chaz niell (martinez); jessfoto (slavin, sanchez-ruballos, children’s fund); jared wickerham/getty images (menino); matt kent/getty images (black crowes); frederick m. brown/getty images (chenoweth)
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