Buckley: Even as his number is retired, David Ortiz reminds Red Sox family it is OK to have fun playing baseball

Celtics legend Larry Bird once said he found inspiration by gazing up at the retired uniform No. 4 of Bruins legend Bobby Orr.

Red Sox legend David Ortiz, we learned last night, found inspiration by gazing upon the retired uniform numbers of other Red Sox legends.

But he did more than gaze. Speaking to Red Sox fans during a pregame ceremony that was well-orchestrated, occasionally funny and at times heart-tuggingly emotional, culminating with the unveiling of the big fella’s No. 34 on Fenway Park’s right-field facade, Ortiz said it was always a dream to hit a ball off those numbers.

And guess what? Speaking with the media following the ceremony — “I don’t miss you guys at all,” said Big Papi, channeling his inner David Price — Ortiz revealed he did, indeed, once hit a ball off the retired numbers.

“I hit the No. 1,” he said, referring to the retired number of Hall of Fame second baseman Bobby Doerr, who is 99 years old and living in Oregon.

It’s amazing how often Doerr’s name comes up in Boston sports history. He was unofficial captain of the Red Sox’ 1946 pennant-winning team. He was first-base coach of the 1967 Impossible Dreamers, and during spring training that year taught Jim Lonborg the bunting techniques that would help win the pennant on the final day of the season. Years later, as a scout with the Toronto Blue Jays, he signed a Brigham Young University infielder named Danny Ainge.

Now it comes out that David Ortiz once dented Bobby Doerr’s number.

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True, it was only in batting practice. The only player ever to hit the facade was Carl Yastrzemski, who did it with a 460-foot home run off the Yankees’ Dick Tidrow on June 19, 1977. (There were no numbers on the facade in those days.)

“It was a good day to hit during batting practice,” said Ortiz, who can’t remember exactly what year it was. “But to be honest with you, I never thought I’d have a chance to hit the ball out there. It’s pretty far.”

What he said next revealed Ortiz’ desire to be a Red Sox legend.

“My comment based on those numbers was, like, I started just getting behind the history of this organization,” he said. “So that happening to me today, it’s a super honor to be up there, hanging with those guys.

“Those guys, those numbers, have a lot of good baseball in them. It takes special people to do special things and at the end of the day have their number retired up there.”

There’s something really cool about that. The very idea that a batter, any batter, would look at the retired numbers belonging to Ted Williams, Jim Rice, Pedro Martinez and other Red Sox legends and summon the moxie to actually dream to hit a ball out there shows a ton of confidence but it also shows a healthy respect for history. Some players would dare to hit a ball out there because they want to show off their guns; Ortiz wanted that as well, one assumes, but he also wanted to do it because of the symbolism. He wanted to be a part of Red Sox history.

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True, he’d be a big part of Red Sox history even had the Sox waited years and years to retire his number. After all, it wasn’t until 1984 that the club got around to retiring Teddy Ballgame’s No. 9, yet his place as the greatest hitter in Red Sox history had been assured long before that.

Which brings me to this important point: That the Sox retired Ortiz’ number last night, rather than wait two or three or five years, is entirely proper. As for the club’s clanky and since ash-canned “policy” about being in the Hall of Fame and all that before you get your number retired . . . why wait?

Besides, there’s this: The Red Sox have strangely been not much fun this year and everyone knows it. Manager John “Accountability Is a Two-Way Street” Farrell can’t get out of his way on most days, and David Price can’t figure out Boston. It’s been a drag.

Having David Ortiz return to Fenway Park is a reminder that it’s OK to have fun playing baseball.

Big Papi’s longtime teammate, Dustin Pedroia, summoned some Hall of Fame eloquence last night when he said, “You’re not our teammate, you’re not our friend. You’re our family.”

The family misses David Ortiz.

Maybe it’ll help if they start aiming for his No. 34 in batting practice.

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