Almost 11 months ago, David Ortiz announced that his 2016 season would be his last as a major league player. At the time, it seemed early to me to announce a retirement from an athletic career. Not that age 40 is early — playing after 40 gets rarer and rarer — but usually a fan hears of retirement somewhere just before or just after spring training or training camp. And in some cases, as a non-competitive season begins to wind down. The light begins to dawn as the diminishing skills become evident. Slumps are harder to break out of and injuries do not always heal as they should. So, a player will choose to announce mid-season to hang up the cleats for the last time. Baseball and sports in general are odd careers in that twists of fate can lead to conflicting possibilities of seasons. Highest of highs and lowest of lows, either of which can cause one to change retirement plans.
Ortiz experienced both a highest of highs and lowest of lows in his last season. He had one of the most productive final seasons in baseball history, establishing a record for the most HRs hit after turning 40 (38), leading the league in doubles (48), slugging (.620) and RBI (127). He also was in the Top Ten in batting average, hitting .315. And he was blessed to be on the highest scoring but most puzzling of teams. The Red Sox as a team led the league in runs scored and also outscored their opponents by 184 runs. However, they were amazingly, frustratingly, shaking-fists-in-the-air inept and inert at scoring with the bases loaded, batting just .218, second worst in the league.
Even before the playoffs began, I had a bad feeling as the regular season drew to a close. Seemed like the concentration from the Red Sox front office was more on the retirement of Ortiz than it was for concentrating on the pending playoffs. Too many moments honoring Papi and not enough moments honoring what needed to be done. Sure, there was an 11 game winning streak, which was nothing to sneeze at. But following that, they lost 5 of their last 6, losing a shot at best record in the league and home field advantage that would have proved crucial, I think, had management not placed such an importance on the pomp of retirement parties, rather than the circumstance of the pending postseason.
In a season of goodbyes and tributes — which at times seemed to last longer than his Red Sox career — I think Papi (and most of the team) was tired, nay, exhausted by the end. Ortiz had only one hit in the ALDS and in his last plate appearance drew a walk, during a too little, too late rally in Game 3 … a soon-to-be playoff sweep at the hands of the Cleveland Native Americans.
Myself, I am still nine years away from retirement age, assuming I retire at age 65. Retire from what, I am not yet sure, as I’ve still to find a niche since my last 10-year span of employment during my last years living in New York. Even with that, I lucked out moving from a temp job to administrative assistant positions. I was needed, I learned and I was finally making a reasonable living in the city where living is not always the most reasonable. When you can — and you can tolerate the effort that it takes — New York offers awesome lessons and opportunities. I greatly appreciated the lessons, but I was not always happy that the opportunities were often bereft of creativity. So I would not define those jobs as careers. It is doubtful that wherever I am in 8 or 10 years will put forth a Big Papi farewell tour for me.
So, today, October 26, I turn 56, and I am not sure what to do about it. Or what it means.
I found out recently that my brother, Bobby, is very sick with liver problems and pancreas issues and very low on the list for a transplant. I understand he is not at all like himself physically or mentally and may be in his final weeks and months. Or perhaps days. And it seems like just 5 or 6 weeks ago we had one of our best phone conversations ever. It was a tough and emotional. But he was real and genuine, or so it seemed, and he was not relying on defensive jokes.
As children, we were close. At least I think we were as I wanted to be near him whenever I could, even if he had smelly feet. By the time I was 10, I didn’t see him all that often as he attended a seminary/boarding school for his high schooling and after that continued with the seminary in Chicago for a couple of years. So during that time, I would see him during holidays and summers, etc. While in college, he fell in love and got married in 1977, not yet 21 years old.
Bobby was present when I woke up from a coma in 1985. I had been in a car accident while working in Florida and he came down from Chicago, my folks came down from New Hampshire, and my sister from my home town in Massachusetts. Comatose patients respond to different instances of sound and communication so different people would talk to me or hold my hand. Trahan Coma Legend has it that I responded most to Bobby, alternately twitching or squeezing his hand as he talked of teasing each other, or slipper fights dislodging my baby teeth or taking slap shots on me and my pillow covered legs, just being introduced to hockey. I’m told the day I woke up, Bobby cried and went down the hall to call Chicago and share the news with his wife, Mary.
We have seen each other every so often over the years — but not often enough. And we have written notes and letters every so often — but not often enough. We have talked on the phone — but not often enough. It was from Bobby that I acquired my yearly tradition of making holiday music collections for friends and family. Because of time and distance, though, I think we failed to build on the closeness that we had as kids, even if it was only a seasonal closeness. We rarely have “connected” on things that mattered. Life moments.
I know that my brother hates peas, because he did as a kid and he has kept doing so. I know that my brother likes to tell the same jokes, because he did as a kid and he has kept doing so. I know that my brother is strong in his faith, because he was as a kid and as recently as a few weeks ago, he was relaying a strength in faith that I have yet to grasp fully in my life. Even while going through varied and extreme emotional upheavals in recent years, he talks of having faith.
Still, there is a Bobby I haven’t met as of yet. The Bobby who has been away from his parents and siblings for most of the 46 years since he went away to high school. While we have lacked the time and input to further develop our relationship, we are still brothers. From a distance, we have understood and reveled in each other’s triumphs and we are pained by each other’s extreme failures. But we are still brothers and still have had memories to rely on. Jokes to tell. And re-tell. And to pretend to laugh at…
The other day I said to my sister, Peggie, that I’d like to remember Bobby as his vital self but to do that would mean going back a decade or two. Or to have a recording of my recent phone call with him. THAT was a real, vital Bobby. Alas, by the time that phone call happened, he was probably already fully damaged inside. According to the little I’ve read, liver and pancreatic damage can lay dormant for years before anyone even realizes, but slowly, methodically, poisoning your system.
Bobby is not telling me jokes right now. Perhaps he’s not even certain of who I am. He is in a waiting room … a green room of sorts. Working on his material for the big house. Soon my brother will be retired from this life but I also wonder if he perhaps retired long ago, ceasing to participate fully through a genetic defect. Unlike Big Papi, Bobby did not announce his retirement a year ahead of time. And he will not get a farewell tour of cheering, adoring fans. But people love him. To know the real Bobby is to love him.
Of course, I can hope for the best, but I certainly don’t want Bobby’s life prolonged in order for him not to be himself. Or worse, prolonged only for him to be in pain. The non-competitive season is winding down. The light begins to dawn. The diminishing skill has become evident. This slump is harder to break. This injury may not heal as it should.
Happy Birthday to me. And, while it’s still premature, Happy Retirement, Bobby. May the next life bring you the happiness and progress that has eluded your soul in recent years. I am happy you were on better roads but saddened the roads were under construction and made difficult to travel. As Big Papi said in 2013, “Vamanos!” Let’s go.
Be at peace.
Gary Trahan of Manchester, NH, has written and performed throughout New England, Colorado, Florida and New York City. Gary has written plays, sketches, screenplays and humor columns, including for almost three years as part of a rotating team of humor columnists submitting for the Encore section of The Nashua Telegraph. “Gare” received his BA from UMass/Amherst another lifetime ago, and has been learning lessons ever since. Writing and other forms of creativity help to keep him sane, uh, sanER. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.