BOSTON — For 14 years, David Ortiz looked to the right-field facade in Fenway Park during batting practice, believing he could hit a home run off the retired numbers but never thinking his would someday be among them.
On Friday night, it actually happened.
Big Papi became the 10th person to be so honored by the Sox, joining Ted Williams (9), Joe Cronin (4), Bobby Doerr (1), Carl Yastrzemski (8), Carlton Fisk (27), Johnny Pesky (6), Jim Rice (14), Pedro Martinez (45) and Wade Boggs (26).
“Those guys, those numbers have a lot of good baseball in them,” Ortiz said after the half-hour ceremony. “It takes special people to do special things and at the end of the day have their number retired up there. That happening to me today, it’s a super honor to be up there hanging with those guys.”
Ortiz asked for No. 34 when he arrived in Boston before the 2003 season because he wanted to honor Minnesota Twins great Kirby Puckett. In a poignant moment, the Red Sox invited the late Puckett’s family to Fenway Park and introduced them on the field.
“When I chose to wear that number, I was proud of wearing it because of the person that I was wearing it for,” Ortiz said. “It was somebody that was very special to my career even if it was early in my career. He did special things, and somebody that special needs special things. When I saw [Puckett’s children] coming toward me, I thought about Kirby — a lot.”
It marked the first of two times that Ortiz got emotional during the program. During brief remarks to the crowd, Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia turned to Ortiz and said, “We want to thank you for not the clutch hits, the 500 home runs. We want to thank you for how you made us feel, and it’s love. You’re not our teammate, you’re not our friend. You’re our family.”
As Ortiz stepped to the podium to speak, he wiped his eyes and said, “The little guy made me cry.”
“Pee-Wee ain’t that nice every day, you know?” Ortiz said later, calling Pedroia by a nickname he used through their 10 years as teammates. “When you see Pee-Wee saying some things like that, acting like that, you know it’s coming from his heart. I love him so much.”
Ortiz is the lone link between the Red Sox’s World Series-winning teams in 2004, 2007 and 2013. He hit 483 of his 541 career homers with the Red Sox, second-most in franchise history behind Williams (521). Ortiz ranks third in franchise history in doubles (524), extra-base hits (1,023) and RBIs (1,530).
Since his retirement, Ortiz has intentionally kept his distance from the Red Sox, rarely coming to Fenway Park and not setting foot in the clubhouse in order to avoid being a distraction. But he said he has been in touch with ownership and team president Sam Kennedy about eventually taking a position within the organization.
For now, he assumes the rarified position of having his number adorn that right-field facade, territory that he says he did once reach during batting practice.
“I hit the No. 1 once,” Ortiz said. “It was a good day to hit during batting practice. To be honest with you, I never thought I’d have a chance to hit the ball out there. It’s pretty far.”
And now, No. 34 is right there with them for a future slugger to take aim.