As a boy growing up in Santo Domingo, the capitol of the Dominican Republic, Albert Pujols lived within walking distance of the training complex of the Seattle Mariners. The prospects assembled there would gather for games, and Pujols still remembers the time of first pitch: 1 p.m., an hour when he should have been at school. Instead he often found himself on the sidelines, watching another teenager from Santo Domingo, a prospect who grew into a phenomenon known as Big Papi.
David Ortiz was not a high-profile prospect when the Mariners signed him in 1992. But his name soon resounded at the complex. Pujols can still recall how the ball would jump off the bat of Ortiz.
“I would stay around and just watch them, and miss school,” Pujols said Monday afternoon at Angel Stadium. “And I lied to my aunt later on and told her that I went to school, but I didn’t. That’s the first encounter that I had with him.”
Pujols found himself reminiscing about Ortiz and Santo Domingo for a somber reason. As Pujols prepared to face the Dodgers in the first night of the Freeway Series, Ortiz was being flown to Boston from the Dominican Republic as he recovered from a gunshot wound suffered after an ambush Sunday night. The shooting shocked the baseball world, which has revered Ortiz, a former member of the Boston Red Sox, for two decades.
Ortiz, 43, is idolized in both Boston, where he helped end an 86-year championship drought and won three World Series titles, and in the Dominican Republic. Pujols pronounced himself stunned that Ortiz was attacked. Their country cherishes baseball and adores its participants, Pujols explained. Few are held in higher regard than Ortiz.
“David is everything,” Pujols said. “It’s a shocker, man. I don’t know the details or anything about it, but it’s really a shocker. But as a ballplayer in the Dominican, you don’t see that. People really respect players down in the D.R. It’s just unfortunate. He was, I guess, in the wrong spot at the wrong time.”
Pujols estimated he contacted more than a dozen different players from the Dominican Republic on Monday to learn and share information about Ortiz’s condition. Early in the morning, Pujols heard from Mariners slugger Edwin Encarnacion that Ortiz was out of surgery. The Red Sox provided a plane to transport Ortiz to Boston.
Ortiz was at a club Sunday when a gunman hopped off a motorcycle, approached him from behind and shot him in the back. The bullet damaged his intestines and his liver. During surgery, his gallbladder was removed.
Red Sox President Sam Kennedy described Ortiz’s condition as “stable” during a news conference Monday. Ortiz will continue to receive treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Ortiz retired in 2016 after 20 seasons in the majors. He played an outsized role in the recent history of the sport. He catalyzed the 2004 Red Sox to a title and won another in 2007. He led the 2013 “Boston Strong” champions, who rallied their city after a bombing at the Boston Marathon. Even in retirement, Ortiz remained an October fixture, jousting with former New York Yankees nemesis Alex Rodriguez on Fox.
The shooting sparked an outpouring of worry from his peers.
“Praying for Big Papi,” Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen wrote on Twitter.
“Thoughts and prayers going out to @davidortiz,” Angels outfielder Mike Trout wrote.
“All the prayers for @davidortiz,” Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner wrote.
Ortiz played a felicitous part in the life of Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. Roberts raced into Red Sox lore when he stole second base in a season-saving rally during Game 4 of the 2004 American League Championship Series. Roberts scored soon after. The Red Sox actually won the game when Ortiz homered in the 12th inning.
“I was surprised, scared for David, and praying for the best,” Roberts said. “As news continues to come out, and you start to learn more, I think I understand that he’s in somewhat stable condition [which] is encouraging. But it’s a very unfortunate thing.
“Obviously, I have very fond memories. One of my good friends. I’m just sad for him, and his family. And I hope he recovers.”
Pujols often visits the Dominican for charity work. He indicated he does not use a security detail. A cousin drives him, and he requires little other protection, he said. Pujols insisted the shooting is unlikely to change his protocol.
“I go down there to work and to help people — that’s my job,” Pujols said. “Let’s face it: If somebody is going to do anything to you, you can put a whole army around you and they’ll find a way to get to you.”
Pujols stressed that he was still processing what had happened. He was trying to avoid reading social media. He stuck to updates provided by Encarnacion, New York Mets second baseman Robinson Cano and a few others he trusted. He was planning to call a member of Ortiz’s family on Monday afternoon.