What: Former Red Sox Star David Ortiz maintains a large presence in Boston, home of his greatest achievements on and off the field.
Why it matters: The Santo Domingo native remains one of most significant stars in Boston as well as a prized partner for brands in and out of the sports world.
There may be no better —or more unlikely— example of a city connecting with a superstar athlete in the 21st century as that of Boston and David Ortiz (@davidortiz). The Dominican Republic native slugged his way to what most feel was a Hall of Fame career on field, swatting 541 home runs, driving in 1768 runs and thrilling fans with post-season heroics, in particular against the Red Sox’s fiercest rivals: the New York Yankees.
But Ortiz, a.k.a. “Big Papi,” is beloved in Beantown for more than his tremendous accomplishments at Fenway Park. His ebullient personality, as larger-than-life as his dramatic hitting, made him a big hit in a town not known for connecting with Latin American stars or sports heroes of color.
A virtual castoff by the Minnesota Twins, who after Ortiz’s breakout 2002 season elected to release him rather than pay what would have likely been a US $2 million-plus salary, the Red Sox signed the designated hitter, who rewarded his new employers with the first of 14 storybook seasons.
And in the wake of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, the anniversary of which is this Sunday, it was Ortiz who spoke for his team —indeed, for the whole city— and the “Boston Strong” movement. The Red Sox went on to win their third World Series in 10 years, further cementing Ortiz’s permanent place as one of Boston’s all-time favorite sons. JetBlue Airways (@JetBlue), with a strong Red Sox partnership that includes a team-logo plane, naming rights for its Spring Training “Fenway South” home in Fort Myers, Fla., and community initiatives in Boston, even going as far as dedicating Gate 34 at Logan Airport to Ortiz, in honor of his uniform number, last year.
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Big brands followed during his career, with companies in the sports world like ’47 Brand (@47brand) and Marucci Sports (@MarucciSports) joining mainstream names like L.L. Bean (@LLBean), John Hancock (@johnhancockusa) and Turbo Tax (@turbotax) in parlaying Ortiz’s popularity and personality into sponsorship deals.
Ortiz’s retirement tour in 2016, which included various gifts from teams the Red Sox visited all year, didn’t mean the end of his viability as a spokesman. Ortiz still counts Coca-Cola, MasterCard, DXL Men’s Apparel (@DestinationXL) and Skechers among his endorsers, and JetBlue recently continued its Red Sox partnership and community outreach by enlisting #34 to surprise South End students with free Red Sox hats.
“They love it,” said Ortiz to media gathered to cover the visit to the Hurley School. “Every athlete in the city should do that once in a while and see the kids.”
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh concurred, as kids saved their biggest cheers not for the owner or team president, but for Big Papi, who Walsh understatedly introduced to the Hurley students as “one of the greatest Red Sox of all time.”
Ortiz has also shown that he “gets it,” wearing a “Girl Power” shirt while joining Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman to start the Sox season last week. And his David Ortiz Children’s Fund, which provides pediatric care for kids in Boston and his native D.R., keeps his Boston connections strong.
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Cover Image credit: Arturo Pardavila III