David Ortiz’s experience seeing the Plaque Gallery at the National Baseball Hall of Fame for the first time was a bit different than that of most first-time visitors.
“The party’s just beginning,” he said upon entering the gallery.
Ortiz was in Cooperstown on Monday for an orientation visit in advance of his induction into the Hall of Fame this July to tour the museum, answer questions from the media, receive his official Hall of Fame jersey and cap, and sign the spot where his own plaque will be placed this summer.
Seeing the faces that make up the hallowed club that he is now a part of for the first time, the man known as Big Papi couldn’t help but look back at how far his baseball journey had taken him.
“Man, it’s been a long road, you know what I’m saying. Being in this room, it’s my first time ever. It gives me goosebumps because as a kid, it’s like, these guys in this room, you look at them and you’re like, ‘Wow!’ It’s kind of impossible … considering where I come from,” he said.
“The greatest players to ever play the game. It’s a huge compliment. I still can’t believe it. I still can’t believe it.”
After spending the first six seasons of his career with the Minnesota Twins, Ortiz quickly established himself as one of the game’s best hitters upon his arrival with the Boston Red Sox in 2003. The team’s longtime designated hitter helped the franchise win three World Series titles across his 14 seasons in Boston.
Ortiz built a reputation as one of the greatest clutch hitters of all time, earning American League Championship Series MVP honors in 2004 and winning the World Series MVP award in 2013.
Ortiz finished his 20-year career with 541 home runs, 1,768 RBIs, 2,472 hits and countless memories for baseball fans across the world. He was elected on his first Hall of Fame ballot in January by the Baseball Writers Association of America.
Ortiz said his dream of making it to Cooperstown started to become a reality to him once he hit his 400th career home run in 2012.
“Once I hit my 400th, somebody had a conversation with me about it and I was like, ‘Hmm. Let me try to take care of myself better, see if I can get there,’” he said. “That’s when I started paying attention.”
Ortiz is just the fourth player from the Dominican Republic to make it to the Hall of Fame, joining Juan Marichal, Vladimir Guerrero and former teammate and close friend Pedro Martinez.
“It’s an honor,” he said. “We have a country where we bleed baseball. We have a country where every kid that walks around, they say, ‘I want to be like you.’”
He talked about how his humble beginnings helped shape the player and the man he became.
“I grew up tough, man. I grew up tough,” Ortiz said. “My childhood wasn’t that easy, but I had great parents to guide me and keep me away from trouble.”
Ortiz went on to talk about his admiration for current Dominican big league stars like Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Fernando Tatis Jr. and Juan Soto, and the importance of being a role model for future generations.
One of the first plaques Ortiz went to see was that of Kirby Puckett, the former Twins great who became a mentor to Ortiz during his time in Minnesota and who inspired him to wear the number 34. When asked about a selfie he took with Puckett’s plaque, Ortiz became visibly emotional, able only to say: “That was my guy.”
When asked who he was most thrilled to be in the same company with in the Hall of Fame, he said with a laugh, “Pretty much everybody.”
Ortiz did go on to single out a moment when, as a prospect with the Seattle Mariners, he ran into San Diego Padres great Tony Gwynn at a spring training game in Arizona.
“That was it for me,” he said about seeing Gwynn. “I literally had a heart attack, almost, when I saw him.”
Joining Ortiz in this year’s induction ceremony on July 24 will be veterans committee selections Buck O’Neil, Minnie Miñoso, Gil Hodges, Tony Oliva, Jim Kaat and Bud Fowler.
Even months after learning of his induction, Ortiz said he is still having difficulty wrapping his mind around having earned a place in Cooperstown.
Nick Richardson, staff writer, can be reached at [email protected] or 607-441-7209.