Friday, May 27, 2011

WHEN HATE TURNS TO LOVE...AGAIN.

After helping the championship-starved and seemingly cursed Red
Sox to a pair of World Series titles in 2004 and 2007, while averaging
more than 40 home runs during that span and being labeled as the
"greatest clutch hitter" in franchise history, David Ortiz was the victim
of one of the worst sell-outs in recent memory.

It didn't quite rank up there with Bernie Madoff selling out his family
and friends, but it was pretty bad. You see, Ortiz was as a beloved figure
in New England as the region had ever seen. He was the Dominican
Babe Ruth. He was large in stature, had a mega-watt smile that never
got turned off, didn't know what a bad mood was, and he was pretty
much the life of every Red Sox Nation party. He was everything good
about sports.

But then came the slump, and another one, and one that lasted even
longer than the previous one. In 2008, it appeared that some of the
magic in his bat that had produced so many walk-off wins and Ruthian
blasts, was gone. Big Papi was suddenly too old, his bat no longer
quick enough, and there were more than a few whispers that his production
dipped because he was no longer on the juice. He finished with a .238
batting average, which was a huge fall-off from his .332 mark the
year before.

In 2009, things got worse for Ortiz, much worse. He got off to another
wretched start,  every at-bat seemingly ended with a weak ground ball
to second base. Big Papi didn't hit a home run until near Memorial Day,
and he was getting booed by the fans who had loved him, and ripped
hard by the media, who had built him up. NESN, the Red Sox owned
station, even went so far as to make Oriz the subject of their on-line
poll for a post-game show. "Should David Ortiz be the Red Sox DH?"
the question was asked. Needless to say, this didn't go over well in
the Red Sox clubhouse, or with management.

Then in August, Ortiz' name oozed to the media as one of the 103 players
who allegedly tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003.
Big Papi used the bad Flintstone vitamins excuse, but whatever the case,
the damage was done. The fans started to turn on him,  and the media
continued to analyze and criticize his every at-bat. Bill Simmons, the
smart alec columnist for ESPN, who's only association with a jock-strap
was by sniffing it, wrote a column for the World-Wide Leader and used
the "things always end badly, or they wouldn't end",  comment when
referring to the decline of Ortiz. Other columnists and sports writers begged
the Red Sox just to release Ortiz and cut their losses.

In 2010, Ortiz got off to a 1 for 12 start and found reporters six deep after
his locker after games. Another bad start, and the Boston media was investigating
Big Papi's trouble's again as if it were Watergate. 1 for 12 in a season that
yields an everyday player 600 at-bats. The panic button was hit, and the
criticism started again. Big Papi was done, he's much older than his age,
those big numbers he posted during the Red Sox magical years had to
be steroid-inflated. Ortiz finished with 32 home runs and drove in 102, but
he hit .270, which didn't seem to be good enough for Red Sox nation
or the media who covered him.

Then a funny thing happpend. Ortiz got off to a great start in 2011. He's
been driving balls hard and putting up very good numbers. The omnipresent
smile has returned to his face, and so have the cheers from the fans. The
pessimists can say Ortiz is in the final year of his contract, and he's more
focused in his pursuit of getting another one. There have been a few
whispers about PED's, after all, how does one lose bat speed and suddenly
reacquire it, late in there career. Big Papi is hitting .309 with 10 home runs.
The Red Sox have reacquired their swagger after a brutal start. Life is
good again for the fans in Red Sox Nation. The media is back on the Bip
Papi bandwagon. It's really sad how everyone jumped off a few years ago.

Everything doesn't have to end badly.

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