It was David Ortiz’s radiant smile and outsize personality as much as his prowess at the plate that made the burly designated hitter one of the most popular players to come out of the Dominican Republic or to wear the uniform of the Boston Red Sox.
And as Ortiz, wounded by an assailant’s bullet in Santo Domingo on Sunday night, flew from his native country to the city where his legend was built — and where his treatment will continue — fans and well-wishers in both places hoped for the best for the 43-year-old ex-slugger known as Big Papi.
Ortiz, who retired in 2016 after a 20-year playing career, was shot in the back at close range about 8:50 p.m. Sunday, in what was described as an ambush-style attack, as he sat at a streetside table at a bar and restaurant in the Dominican capital. Rushed to a nearby clinic, he reportedly underwent six hours of surgery to remove his gall bladder and parts of his intestine. Doctors also reported damage to his liver.
By Monday afternoon, Ortiz was in good enough condition that medical personnel prepared him to fly to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston on a private plane sent by the Red Sox, for whom he still works as a special assistant.
“David’s condition is still serious, but he is stable enough to be transported back here to Boston,” Red Sox President and CEO Sam Kennedy said at a news conference Monday at Fenway Park.
The plane carrying Ortiz landed in Boston on Monday night, according to ESPN.
Ortiz’s media assistant, Leo Lopez, told reporters the slugger is “out of danger” and in stable condition but would be in intensive care for 24 hours. He said Ortiz was heavily sedated but woke up Monday morning and spoke briefly to family members.
Two others were wounded in the attack at the Dial Bar and Lounge, including Jhoel Lopez, a prominent Dominican television host who was with Ortiz at the time and was believed to have been struck by the same bullet that hit Ortiz, according to police officials in Santo Domingo. Lopez was hit in the thigh. In a security video of the attack, Ortiz is seen sitting at a table as the shooter, who arrived moments earlier on a motorcycle, approaches from behind, shoots once and attempts to flee.
Ortiz retired as arguably the greatest designated hitter ever — and among the most popular Red Sox players in history — after a 20-year career that included 541 home runs, 10 All-Star appearances, three World Series titles and a World Series MVP award. He is likely to be voted to the Baseball Hall of Fame when he hits the ballot for the first time in 2022.
“He’s a superhero without a cape,” said Red Sox Manager Alex Cora, Ortiz’s teammate in Boston for parts of four seasons.