They proudly spoke of their Cuban, Dominican and even Michigan roots.
They talked about the perseverance and fighting that led them to the immortality of baseball.
Two hours spent celebrating Hall of Fame chapters – Tony Oliva, Jim Cat, the late Minnie Minoso, the late Jill Hodges, and the late Buck O’Neill – recount the stories and journey it took to reach baseball heaven, with a crowd of 35,000 catching their breath and preparing for the glorious end.
David Ortiz, Big Babi.
You can’t walk around town this weekend without seeing Dominican flags, Ortiz jerseys, jerseys, Boston Red Sox hats, and anything and everything showing their love for one of the most beloved baseball players of his generation.
The moment Ortiz stepped onto the stage, the audience erupted and fans chanted, ‘Baby! Pape! Pape!’, waving Dominican flags.
Ortiz, who said he cried a lot as he practiced his speech and thought of his late mother and father, looked at the crowd of about 35,000, and shouted:
“Hello my people!
“I was not surprised to see all my people representing the Dominican Republic,” Ortiz said. “Dominican Republic, we have a lot of wonderful people who believe in God. I am very lucky. It is a beautiful place with beautiful people.”
Ortiz, whose daughter Alex sang the national anthem before the session began, spoke for 18 minutes in Spanish and English, before eloquently summarizing his emotional day.
Ortiz said, “You know me, I’m always straightforward, and I always say what I feel like saying. I’m always joking. I’m always me.”
“But you have the whole planet, and the whole nation is watching you, and you want to get a positive message across – especially the way life is going in the present – so people understand that we need to stay together. We need to be more humble. We need to share more love. Because that’s what we need.
“A lot of bad things are happening nowadays, we need to step things up and make things different.”
more: Learn about the 2022 Baseball Hall of Fame chapter
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While the large group of Dominican Republic fans fervently celebrated their native son, Ortiz made sure to let Boston and New England know what they meant to him, and always will be.
“When I think of Boston, I definitely think of 2004, 2007 and of course 2013 when the marathon explosion rocked our city,” Ortiz said. “I have never seen a society recover and unite like Boston.
“When I think of Boston, I also think of the last game I played [in 2016]. Standing in this field, it felt like an entire New England city and every one of you was surrounding me and was showing me all your love.
“I love you, Boston!”
If there had been enough time, Ortiz could have spent 12 hours on stage thanking everyone along the way, from former teammates to coaches to traveling secretaries to scouts.
He has thanked and known more than a dozen of his former teammates, from Pedro Martinez to Kirby Bucket to Latroy Hawkins to Dustin Pedroya to Johnny Damon to Jason Varitek.
“I was thinking about my life, my career, and most of all, the people who believed in me,” Ortiz said. “When you believe in someone, you can change their world, and you can change their future.”
Ortiz has been showered with advice along the way, but the greatest may be from former Red Sox manager Grady Little.
They were playing a game shortly after he was eliminated by the Minnesota Twins and signed with Boston in 2003, and they remember hitting the ball that moved the runner from first base to the scoring center.
He arrived at the bunker, expecting to be hit by five, but was only greeted by silence.
“She told me Grady, big boy,” Ortiz recalls. “I don’t want you to bring them. I want you to bring them.”
“The rest is history.”
Ortiz became the fourth Dominican player to be inducted into Cooperstown, and the first DH team elected on the first ballot.
Ortiz said: “That’s what makes this club so special, you can’t go shopping to get it. You have to earn it.”
Ortiz, who tested positive for steroids during an anonymous drug test in 2003, was asked if Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez and Sami Sosa would one day make it into the Hall of Fame.
He said: “These players did their homework. Situations happened the way I understand it. That explains why they are not here. They will have their chance.”
Rodriguez, who has never been to the Hall of Fame, flew on Saturday to honor Ortiz. He wandered through the museum on a Saturday night, closely read dozens of paintings, went to a Red Sox party, and then relaxed and smoked a cigar at the Otesaga Hotel.
There were plenty of laughs and light moments along the way, too.
Former twin greats Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau came to honor Tony Oliva and Jim Cat, and decided to go old school. They may have earned a total of $315 million over their career, but they came together in a hotel room out of town.
The last time they shared a room was in 2001 in their first professional seasons in the Appalachian League in Elizabethton, Tennessee.
Oliva joked that he would speak for 45 minutes, taking one minute for every year it takes him to be elected. He ended up speaking for 18 minutes and 5 seconds – eight minutes longer than the Hall of Fame wanted – but much shorter than he was threatening.
He talked about meeting his wife in Minnesota, not knowing a word of English while she didn’t know a word of Spanish, and falling in love with Minnesota. It took him much longer than he imagined to get to Cooperstown, and he now wants former Red Sox star Luis Tiant to join him.
Cat, 83, told the stories of growing up in Michigan, falling in love with baseball in his first game on June 26, 1946 at Briggs Field in Detroit, and being able to recite the first chapter of the Hall of Fame at the age of 8: Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson , Kristi Mathewson and Honus Wagner.
Kat got emotional thinking about his father, who was earning only $72 a week, but still recommended that his son take the $4,000 signing bonus offered by Washington senators for development in the mansion, rather than accept the $25,000 Chicago White Sox offer as He wants to be on the big league roster, but sit on the bench for two years.
“You do the math to see what my dad sacrificed to play at the right level,” Cat said.
Cat won 283 games, made a full 180, but still waited 34 years before serving, finally getting his reward for longevity and durability. He never missed a match due to an arm injury, and campaigned for the man best known for having elbow surgery to one day join him in Cooperstown.
“I think it’s a tragedy that Tommy John is not in the Hall of Fame,” he said. Is there a jug more famous than Tommy John?
Erin Hodges, daughter of Hall of Famer Gil Hodges, told instructive stories about her father’s close relationship with Jackie Robinson as teammates on the Brooklyn Dodgers.
She remembers her father talking about the racist taunts Robinson received by the opposing team in one game when Hodges had just given up, rushed toward their lair, and threw down his glove.
Erin Hodges recalls, “If anyone else has something to say, come here now and we’ll sort it out. Needless to say, no one came out and no one said another word.”
It was one beautiful honor after another, but this was a day for Ortiz, as he did during the Red Sox’s biggest moments leading to three World Championship titles.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: David Ortiz delights Cooperstown fans at Hall of Fame