As the ball sailed off David Ortiz's bat into one of the deepest parts of Fenway Park Wednesday night, it marked the end of a very emotional journey: for Ortiz, for the fans, and for the media who had made hitting that first home run such an important achievement.
If you are reading this blog, you undoubtedly are familiar with the nonstop coverage that has followed Ortiz's lackluster offense this season. Everyone has an opinion about what is "wrong" with Big Papi, and the story of the first home run took on a life of its own.
That's what happens when you are an ultra-popular former MVP candidate that plays for one of the most media-saturated clubs in all of sports.
But aside from the first long ball (which took a career-high 149 at-bats over two seasons to hit), there are still plenty of concerns about Ortiz and how much longer the Sox can keep him in the all-important third spot in the lineup.
After a weekend where he went 0-for-12 (eight men left on base Sunday), Ortiz's stat line plunged to .195/1/18 with an OBP of .301—a far cry from his average of. 284/35/119/.380 in just over eight seasons. Unfortunately for all sides, this is an impossible situation to navigate.
Everyone's an expert
One of the drawbacks with being as popular as the Red Sox are is that everyone feels he or she is an expert. Thanks to hours upon hours of pregame and postgame coverage, NESN, WEEI, the Globe/Herald, etc., Comcast Sports Net, and way too many blogs (including mine!), too many fans think they could manage and run this club.
So of course, everyone has an Ortiz opinion—most of which are just carbon copies of what other people are saying.
(Side note: My opinion is that Ortiz is older than the 33 years he claims and that he is doing what most other major leaguers that turn 36 do—slow down.)
The fishbowl effect
Because of the above, every at-bat is scrutinized to a ridiculous extent. Fans think there's no such thing as getting better and adjusting to pitching as the game goes on. If Ortiz strikes out badly in his first at-bat, people now audibly groan and add another log to the frustration fire.
How is Ortiz supposed to deal with batting at home when everyone treats his plate appearance as if it's Game Seven of the World Series?
Imagine if you used to do something great at your job, but suddenly you can't seem to get it done anymore. However, everyone still expects you to be great at that task and can't stop talking about it.
People huddle around your desk and pray that you'll be able to pull it off. You show signs of coming out of your funk but can't seem to put it all together and are sick of everyone asking questions and staring as you attempt this once-easy task. That would be pretty frustrating, right?
That's a little of what Ortiz is feeling these days.
More after the jump...
An untradeable contract
The four-year deal that looked so good back in 2006 is now a huge detriment. Ortiz is locked up at $12.5 million for this season and $12.5 million for next year, with Boston holding a club option for 2011.
At this stage, he's just a designated hitter, so his value is limited to American League clubs with a penchant for higher payrolls. If his current offensive pace keeps up, the Sox will have no choice but to be stuck with him...for better or for worse.
The legend effect
After being told for years how awesome you are, it can't be easy to just accept the fact you're not good anymore. For athletes, there's always another game and always another opportunity to get better. (Does this explain Brett Favre? I have no idea at this point.)
Facing the prospect of it—the crowds, the competition, the camaraderie—being over is tough, hence why the announcement of retirement is one no one wants to make.
If Boston does drop him in the lineup (which seems more inevitable by the day), how will Ortiz accept it: like a leader that will do anything to help the team win, or like his ex-teammate Manny Ramirez shot his way out of town? You'd like to think the former, but today's modern athletes have taught us to expect the latter.
As NESN ran a "Big Papi Is Back" frame on the screen following Wednesday's game, I cringed. After one small bit of success, they acted like the "old" David Ortiz was about to emerge and that good times were here again. So much for easing the pressure off the guy.
In the span of just a few games, though, those good times are seeming like they'll never happen again. Considering all he's done, the big guy deserves better, but it's the new Boston sports scene where we want it all and we want it now—past accomplishments and success be damned.
Josh Nason is the publisher and main writer for Small White Ball, a New England-based sports and media blog. He joined up with Bleacher Report in 2008. He can be reached at josh [at] smallwhiteball [dot-com] or twitter.com/joshnason.