Fenway Faithful Rise Above for Big Papi

Don SpielesCorrespondent IMay 20, 2009

13 Jul 1999:  A general view of Fenway Park during the 1999 All-Star game in Boston, Massachusetts. Mandatory Credit: Al Bello/ALLSPORT

Perhaps it was that the AL East leading Blue Jays were in town. Perhaps it was that a rather tough West Coast trip had just ended and it was nice to have the guys back in the friendly confines. Or maybe it had something to do with the need to keep warm with a first pitch temperature around 60 degrees.

Whatever it was, the fans at Fenway park were in a good mood on Tuesday evening.  They were active, animated, and involved in a game that was, for the most part, a real yawner. But nowhere was their mood more evident than in their services performed on behalf of David Ortiz.

Most everyone who follows baseball at all has heard the tale of woe associated with Ortiz and his current slump.  The biggest issue of all might actually be whether or not it is a slump at all, or rather the bad news that the slugger is officially in the downward slope of a memorable career. 

By game's end, Big Papi's line included 161 plate appearances, equalling 133 at-bats and, in what is now the longest such streak of his career, he is without home run number one.  What's more, he's batting a minuscule .203 and his slugging percentage of .293 is his smallest ever (for such a sample size.)

Ortiz has been a leader on the Red Sox since joining the organization in 2003.  He had come to be known as a clutch player for the seeming frequency of his opportunities for late game heroics—opportunities he usually took advantage of.

His magic reached a crescendo of sorts in the 2004 ALCS where Boston's historic comeback from three games down to the Yankees was made possible in part by walk-off hits in two consecutive games by Ortiz.  He batted .387 in that series and posted an OPS of 1.199, tops among teammates with at least 10 at-bats.

Last year saw a marked decline in Ortiz's numbers.  He had a sluggish start to the year, which did start to rebound later in the season.  He suffered a wrist injury that sidelined him for a chunk of the season.

Then, Manny Ramirez was traded on July 31. 

Papi had lost not only his good friend, but his cohort in the lineup.  All these things combined for a .264 average, .507 slugging percentage, and only 23 home runs.

The offseason gave Ortiz the chance to rest the ailing wrist, and hopes were high for 2009. 

So far, things have not begun well.

So, on Tuesday evening, as Papi came to the plate late in a game that the Sox led by one slim run, the fans took it upon themselves. 

No, they did not boo, as is the custom behavior for even small stretches of poor play in places like...oh, I don't know...the Bronx, for instance. 

No, the fans at Fenway instead stood and cheered.  Cheered like Papi was coming to the plate in search of a hit to complete the cycle, when really he was looking for anything that suggested his sluggish start was coming to an end. 

The fans chanted his nickname, and clapped through his walk back to the dugout, shin to chest, after fanning on a low outside slider that would never have gotten him a short time ago. 

They clapped even when he was in the dugout, tossing his helmet in an unusual show of frustration—unusual for Ortiz, that is.

It remains to be seen if the fans good vibrations can help pull Papi out of the funk.

This display of team spirit and affection will help those of us not located in New England, but still part of Red Sox Nation.

Those of us who have gravitated to the Red Sox for some intangible reason, that is hard to explain. 

It helps us when someone asks us a question like, "Why would you root for the Red Sox?," or when they say, "Aw! The Red Sox are just like he Yankees!"  Most of us have answers for them. 

Scenes like the one last night at Fenway provide that little lift.  Just a small shot in the arm and a validation of loyalty, even for those of us who didn't really feel they needed it.