'This Is Our F--king City': The Oral History

Joon Lee@iamjoonleeStaff WriterApril 16, 2018

Boston Red Sox's David Ortiz sits in the dugout before a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles in Boston, Tuesday, April 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
Illustration by Nicole Rifkin

"This is our f--king city."

Take a trip into Boston and you'll see that even five years later, those five words are inescapable. In the city they've become everything from a rallying cry to a T-shirt sold around Fenway after Red Sox games to something screamed in a Boston University dorm room after beating someone in FIFA. They've become forever intertwined with one of the region's biggest sporting legends: David Ortiz.

Ortiz had already cemented his legacy as one of the greatest players in Red Sox history. But that speech took Big Papi's legend to another level, to that of city icon, with no disclaimer that he's an athlete.

"It's right at the top of the defining moments that establish David as the most important player in our history," says Sam Kennedy, Red Sox team president. "I say that with all due respect to all of the other great players, Hall of Famers, other perhaps more talented baseball players, whether you're talking about Ted Williams or Carl Yastrzemski. The list goes on and on. What he did for the city that day helped lift the spirits when we needed it most."

All it took was five words. 

               

Marathon Monday, April 15, 2013 

It had already been a particularly great Marathon Monday, with a walk-off Mike Napoli double off the Green Monster to clinch a Red Sox victory after an 11:05 a.m. start. The game ended at 2:10 p.m., and with a road trip to Cleveland scheduled, the Red Sox got on the bus to head to Logan International Airport. They had started the season without Ortiz, who was still recovering in Triple-A Pawtucket in Rhode Island from an Achilles tendon injury that ended his 2012 season.

Charles Steinberg (former senior adviser to president Larry Lucchino, current president of Pawtucket Red Sox): Monday, April 15, 2013, was an extraordinarily beautiful day. You don't know what you're going to get on Patriots' Day in Boston. It has the full range of weather options. This day was particularly gorgeous.

Kennedy (former Red Sox COO, current Red Sox president and CEO): It's like a national holiday in Boston that we celebrate. It's my favorite day of the year going back to middle school and high school. You'd always try to go to the Red Sox game if you could find the ticket and then walk out and go enjoy the marathon.

Shane Victorino
Shane VictorinoElise Amendola/Associated Press

Shane Victorino (Red Sox outfielder, 2013-2015): You don't base a schedule around another event. ... No, in this situation, it's the city of Boston. It's the marathon. It's bigger than the Red Sox.

At 2:49 p.m., just 39 minutes after the Red Sox's 3-2 walk-off victory, the first bomb at the finish line exploded. Twelve seconds later, the second went off. The terrorist attack killed three and injured at least 264, including 17 people who lost limbs.

Jonny Gomes (Red Sox outfielder, 2013-2014)We actually thought, when we were in the clubhouse, that a transformer blew upa loud bang, nothing to worry about. But then by the time we got on the bus, which wasn't too much longer after, obviously social media and then the graphic pictures started to come out, and it got real real quick.

Ortiz (Red Sox designated hitter, 2003-2016): I was getting ready to play for Pawtucket, and then all of a sudden, the crazy stuff happened. When you see people going down like that, it was like, What in the world is going on? Who in the hell would come out with ideas to hurt people while trying to raise money to help people?

Gomes: We're going to the airport. We're getting passed on the other side of these fleets after fleets of fire trucks, police cars, ambulances going into town. That was probably the eeriest feeling of, s--t's going down right here.

Jack McCormick (longtime Red Sox traveling secretary): It took us about 45 minutes, an hour, to get out of there because they had a ground hold at Logan that day, thinking that someone might try to escape through the airport.

          

Boston Strong, Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Red Sox get to Cleveland, where they hold a team dinner. Twenty-three of the 25 players attend, more than on a typical road trip. At 6:33 a.m. the day after the bombings, Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks tweets, "I can't wait to put on my jersey today... I get to play for the strongest city out there. #BostonStrong." The hashtag immediately becomes the city's rallying cry.

Elise Amendola/Associated Press

Will Middlebrooks (Red Sox third baseman, 2012-2014): As far as the tweet with #BostonStrong, athletes in Boston have a platform. Whether they like you, love you or despise you, they read, they listen, they ingest every bit of what you say. I had zero intention to think of something that would catch on like that. I just tweeted it from my heart, something I truly felt.

Gomes: Boston Strong was gaining steam. We thought that we should put it on a jersey and put 617, the Boston area code, underneath it. Tommy [McLaughlin], our clubhouse guy, just took it and ran with it. Within no time, he had that jersey sewn up and ready to rock.

Victorino: You saw the Boston Strong being posted all over the place on social media. It became the clause or hashtag that kept that city molded together.

Back home, Ortiz continued his rehab while Boston went on lockdown in search of the bombers.

Ortiz: It was my first year starting on the DL. The team was traveling. I was home and rehabbing with the Triple-A team in Pawtucket. Everything went down when the team was on the road and I was at home.

Kennedy: The streets were literally empty because we weren't supposed to be on the roads. Fenway is such a high-profile, important landmark. Charlie Cellucci, the head of security, was at 4 Yawkey Way. He was standing there with his gun, not drawn, but on a belt clip. He was defending the ballpark with the rest of our guards.

The Red Sox returned from Cleveland on Friday morning, scheduled to play the Kansas City Royals that night.

John Carter (director of Red Sox productions): While we're trying to prepare for how we're going to honor, at the time, the three victims, fatal victims, and obviously the hundreds more who were injured, we started thinking about how we could do that.

Lucchino (former Red Sox president, current chairman of Pawtucket Red Sox): There was no question in our mind that we should do it because there was so much public interest in spirit and connection that had to be encouraged, celebrated, appreciated.

The Red Sox canceled their Friday game against the Kansas City Royals as the manhunt continued.

Lorenzo Cain (Kansas City Royals center fielder, 2011-2017): Team was on lockdown, players told not to leave hotel rooms. We just ordered a bunch of room service.

Eric Hosmer (Kansas City Royals first baseman, 2011-2017): The hotel was surrounded by media trucks, military trucks. I remember getting in an elevator with Anderson Cooper. You just realized how nuts it was. The president came the next day. ... It was a long couple of days.

Kennedy: We had updates every single day from city hall, Mayor [Thomas] Menino himself directly. We were just watching it all unfold. The mayor really wanted us to play on Friday the 19th. We said we would try to do it, but there was a shelter-in-place ordinance, and nobody was allowed out of their home. The mayor was really angry that we couldn't play on Friday.

Steinberg: At 6 p.m. on Friday, approximately, the law enforcement and state and city officials tell us to resume our lives, which is not a great source of comfort because they haven't found someone who's on the loose, and we're going to have a ballgame tomorrow afternoon. Larry Lucchino called me. I said, "I'm not thrilled about this." The idea of having 35,000 people come over to your house for lunch when there's a killer on the loose is disquieting.

At 8:42 p.m., Boston police arrested the second terrorist, who was hiding inside a boat in Watertown, a suburb.

Lucchino: I remember I was talking to a friend, a former CEO of an NBA team. She went to Opening Day and thought our ceremony was wonderful, but she gave us an A-minus. "Why is that?" I asked. "Because you didn't really have a player speak. There's something important about that." I had that in the back of my mind after Opening Day.

         

Before the Game

With the manhunt over, the Red Sox were scheduled to play a 1:10 p.m. game against the Kansas City Royals on Saturday, April 20.

Dave O'Brien
Dave O'BrienBillie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

Dave O'Brien (former Red Sox radio broadcaster, current Red Sox television broadcaster): It was so eerie to come to the ballpark that day because there was still so much lingering fear and anxiety in the city. ... Every single person who came into Fenway Park that day—a player, a broadcaster, an usher—we felt the same sense of anxiety.

Sarah McKenna (Red Sox vice president of fan services and entertainment): The ceremony was coming together quickly. I was running down to reception, and they said, "Neil Diamond is on the phone." We had no idea he was coming. ... He said, "We just felt like we had to be here," after ballparks around the country were singing "Sweet Caroline" in the eighth inning as a tribute to Boston. It was 10 minutes before the pregame ceremony was supposed to start, and that was the first that we knew that he was in Boston.

Ed Davis (Boston police commissioner, 2006-2013): Both the mayor and governor and the state police and the FBI, we had been in the trenches up until a few hours before that. It was the first chance we got to take a breath and talk to each other. There was a cathartic feeling. It's over.

Carter: I'm rarely nervous at work. But I was nervous that day because I knew all eyes were on us. I'm praying that our sound system works, and the microphone, which is a wireless microphone, isn't going to cut out. I'm praying that we don't have any technical issues in the control room with the video.

Steve Buckley (sports columnist, Boston Herald): The little things jumped out at me: the fact that the Red Sox on that Saturday wore home uniforms that had the word Boston printed across the front instead of Red Sox. It was like on that day, while we are the Red Sox, we also are Boston.

Davis: They invited the police, and I can remember standing there on the field in shock. For us, we realized how serious the situation was, but I don't think we realized the magnitude of what was happening as far as the media and community. We were so engaged in the pursuit and making sure that we got these guys. It took us a day or two to understand the effect it had on the country. It started to sink in while I was there on the baseball field.

Steinberg: How do you go from that to playing baseball? It's an emotional leap. That's when I said, "We need an elbow. We need a transition. We need something to take us from the gravity of this ceremony that will somehow let the fans be ready to play baseball." That's when the notion of having David Ortiz be the punctuation mark arose.

McKenna: The moment we figure that David would be there for that game, we knew it had to be him.

David Ortiz
David OrtizMaddie Meyer/Getty Images

Ortiz: I was one of the guys who was on the team the longest. Because of it, it was like the military. The longest tenure you have, you're the one who does things. I was the general of the ballclub because I was there the longest. In the middle of the ceremony, they asked me to say something to the fans.

Gomes: I didn't know he was going to talk. Once you get inside the Red Sox uniform, you realize the magnitude of this man, David Ortiz. The outside looking in, he's another sportsman you're playing against. But when you get into the clubhouse, this dude just fricking grabs the wheel and tells everyone to jump on the bus he's driving.

Ortiz: I wanted this whole town to feel that this wasn't the one thing we wanted to stop us from being who we are. These people wanted to put a stop to what we loved doing. This is the type of thing that gets into your head, and all of a sudden, you don't want to go into a restaurant or go into the hallway. They want you to stay at your house so the whole city stops functioning. I wanted to make sure that people moved on and showed to all of these bastards that that was not how we rolled.

McKenna: I asked him to say a few words. David has an ability to connect with people that a lot of people don't recognize. He truly feels connected to the city. We felt like we needed something and someone needed to say something. It just all came together.

Ortiz: I was by the dugout when she asked me about it. Walking toward the mound on the field, I thought about everything.

              

The Speech

With sunglasses on, a microphone in his hand and an American flag draped over the Green Monster behind him, Ortiz took the field to address the crowd of 35,152.

       

All right, all right, Boston.

This jersey that we wear today.

It doesn't say Red Sox. It says Boston.

We want to thank you, Mayor Menino, Governor [Deval] Patrick and the whole police department for the great job they did this past week.

This is our f--king city, and nobody gonna dictate our freedom.

Stay strong. Thank you.

               

GomesEveryone was like, "Did he just say f--k? He didn't say f--k. I swear he just said f--k." So it was kind of a shock factor there for a second.

Ortiz: Dropping the F-bomb, I didn't even realize that I had did it.

Chad Finn (sports writer, Boston Globe): There's that brief split second where the crowd was like, Did he just drop an F-bomb? And then you have 37,000 people approve of it immediately.

Ortiz: I was angry, man.

Davis: It was hard for us to hear. The acoustics were a little odd. There was an echo. I turned to my friend. "Did he just say what I think he said?"

Ortiz: The last thing I was thinking about was that I was on national television.

O'Brien: What he said shocked everyone in the broadcast booth. When the words came out of David's mouth, we were on the air like a lot of other people. I remember the broadcaster for the Kansas City Royals came racing into our booth and said, "Are you allowed to say that?" I said, "David is."

McCormick: I said, "Whoops, you can't filter that out." Spontaneity is a bitch. He let it go, and there was no getting it back.

Ortiz: When I walked off the field, I didn't know what I had done. I was looking at the governor. I was looking at the mayor of the city. The chief of the police department. Everyone was clapping and high-fiving. I was like, "What did I just say?" They were so happy and just like, "Yes!"

Larry Lucchino
Larry LucchinoBillie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

Lucchino: I remembered that when I suggested that it be David Ortiz who spoke to Sarah McKenna, she said, "Larry, if it gets to David, the chances of him dropping an F-bomb are 100 percent."

McKenna: A lot of times, people focus on the fact that he used the F-word, but he also made this powerful statement of saying that nobody was going to dictate our freedom. We gave him some prompts, but the phrase about nobody dictating our freedom, that was all him.

Ortiz: Sometimes people say things and don't know where it comes from.

Hosmer: It opened all of our eyes that as baseball players, our voices can carry. ... It showed everybody how baseball and a guy like David can bring everybody together. With both teams out there standing on the lines with full support of what happened, it just showed how we all united and came together as a country.

Marty Walsh (mayor of Boston, 2014-present): He put the stake in the ground that this is our effin' city. That we are Boston Strong. That we come together. That we are united.

O'Brien: That's the way that David talks. That's the way that New England talks.

Julius Genachowski (former Federal Communications Commission chairman, current managing director at The Carlyle Group): The FCC has an official Twitter feed, usually used for dry updates. I thought I should send a tweet that indicated our support for Big Papi and just really clarify where we are. We wanted the attention to be in the right place.

Ortiz: I wasn't looking at this like, I'm David Ortiz and I play for the Red Sox. ... I guarantee you, if you pulled somebody out of the stands to say something, they'd say something more powerful than what I'd said.

Buckley: I've had a number of run-ins with David Ortiz over the years, but when next I saw him in the dugout, I went up to him and said, "David, I would love to shake your hand and thank you for what you said that day." That's how wrapped up I got in it. If that was any kind of breach of professional ethics, screw it. That's how I felt. I needed to shake his hand.

Steinberg: You smile because he not only embodied the emotions of the community, but he was such a valid father figure doing so. Isn't it ironic that his nickname is Big Papi?

Gordon Edes (former ESPN.com Red Sox beat writer, current Red Sox team historian): In that moment, he really did become father. And the father who offered words of comfort, words of support and then ultimately words of defense.

In the weeks following, those five words became plastered all over T-shirts in the Boston area. They'd become instantly iconic. Several viewers across the country (warning: link contains profanity) sent in complaints to the FCC about Ortiz's language on TV.

Genachowski: I was paying attention, because it was Boston, and while I'm primarily a Washington Nationals fan, the Boston Red Sox are my American League team. I knew that there would be people who saw that he had used the F-word on the airwaves and would ask me, "Oh, that's a violation of the FCC rule, and is the FCC going to punish that?" My first thought was, No f--king way are we going to punish this.

Ortiz: The FCC came to the field with his whole family. He wanted to meet me, and I was like, Oh s--t. I'm in trouble.

Genachowski: We got to meet Big Papi in the dugout.

Ortiz: It was like, "Look, you said something that got this city moving forward. It took the fear out of people. You have no idea what you just said. That's going to be in the history of New England forever. It was right when we needed it. Don't worry. We needed that F-bomb."

Genachowski: I asked Big Papi to sign a baseball, and he wrote, To Julius: F--king awesome.

The baseball David Ortiz autographed for Julius Genachowski and his family.
The baseball David Ortiz autographed for Julius Genachowski and his family.Photo courtesy of Julius Genachowski

Most did not expect the Red Sox to compete for the division, let alone the World Series, that year. As the season went on, the team hung on to first place, and championship aspirations sprouted.

Gomes: When the Bruins lost the Stanley Cup, we felt this huge momentum shift onto our shoulders because we saw what it was going to do for the city. ... The whole weight of the city was put on our shoulders."

Napoli (Red Sox first baseman, 2013-2015): We lived it. We were there. We were a really close-knit group to begin with. To go to the hospitals, see the people and be there during it, it brought us closer together as a group.

Middlebrooks: It was already our goal from day one of spring training to win the World Series. But there was extra meaning now. Nothing would stop us.

        

Nearly six months later, Ortiz hit a game-tying grand slam in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series, which helped propel the team to the World Series. The Red Sox clinched the title in six games over the St. Louis Cardinals. Ortiz hit .688 and earned the World Series MVP.

Jonny Gomes
Jonny GomesCharles Krupa/Associated Press

Gomes: Having the opportunity to set the World Series trophy down on the finish line, within feet of where they set off the bomb, to put the trophy on the asphalt and place the Boston Strong jersey over it, it felt iconic.

             

Legacy

After the 2016 season, Ortiz retired from baseball. In September 2016, the city of Boston renamed the bridge connecting Kenmore Square to Fenway Park "Big Papi Bridge." In June 2017, the Red Sox named a road "David Ortiz Drive" and retired his No. 34.

Finn: To me, the day David Ortiz showed up in Boston is the biggest day in the history of the Red Sox. There's never been a more charismatic athlete in Boston—Larry Bird and Pedro Martinez included. David Ortiz is the guy who changed everything. He's the guy who did what Ted Williams couldn't do, what Yaz couldn't do, what Jim Rice couldn't do. He's the guy who got the big hits when the Red Sox needed the big hit.

O'Brien: The funny thing is, this moment he didn't do it with a bat. He didn't do it with a key hit or a dramatic at-bat. He did it with his voice.

Dan Shaughnessy (sports columnist, Boston Globe): In the Boston folklore, those are the words that he'll be remembered for. It was the magnitude of the moment, the spontaneity and the way it played out. It played into what people wanted to hear in that moment. He was clutch in that moment as well. This guy said "f--k," and everyone, the FCC, was OK with it. That's just who David was.

O'Brien: David did so many things that defy rationality. This is one of those moments you expected, and he actually over-delivered. He had that way his whole career. This was just another clutch moment when you think about it.

Ortiz: I had a really incredible career, but what stands out to me was not all the homers and all the hits and all the game-changing World Series plays. I don't picture myself on just that. That's the thing I think about the most. I hit homers, and I did what I did on the field and entertained people. Those moments are always going to be there, but what goes beyond that is what touched me the most. New England is my second home.

Kennedy: I would say that's a good bet he's going to get a statue. I was at an event with him, and I said, "David, we named a street after you. We named a bridge after you. We have given you a lifetime contract. Is there anything else we can do for you?" He laughed. "I'll think of something. Don't worry about it."

Walsh: His statue should be that moment. That fist represented something bigger than the Boston Red Sox and something bigger than baseball. That fist represented humanity, and that made a big difference. When he was walking off the field that day, he wasn't walking off as a baseball player. He was walking off as a Bostonian.

Kennedy: The speech will be the moment immortalized. David Ortiz means so much more to this franchise than carrying the team on his back to winning three World Series titles. ... The speech was the defining moment in his career. ... He said what so many of us were feeling. And he got away with it cause he was Big Papi.

    

B/R staff writer Scott Miller contributed to this report.

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