BOSTON -- David Ortiz was angry and, if he's being honest, even a little scared.
Unlike his Red Sox teammates, who left town a few hours after the explosions rocked the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013, for a three-game series in Cleveland, Ortiz stayed behind to continue his recovery from a slow-to-heal Achilles injury. From his house in tony, suburban Weston, he watched the death and the chaos, the uncertainty and the fear that paralyzed the city he has called home since 2003, and wondered how to explain the unexplainable to his three children.
"I was pissed, bro. I'm not going to lie to you," Ortiz recalled. "I was mad. How can it be possible that people do something like that? Especially in America, you know what I'm saying? I was mad. I was super-angry."
In the midst of the crisis, an ailing mayor rose from his wheelchair and led a community under siege. A police commissioner reassured citizens they would be safe. And a president pledged the support of a stunned nation.
But still, something more was required.
And so, once the Red Sox returned to Fenway Park, after the bombs and the chase and the shelter-in-place and the manhunt for the suspects, Ortiz walked to the middle of the field, microphone in hand, and spoke extemporaneously and in the only way he knows how.
From the heart.
"All right, Boston," Big Papi said, clapping his hands. "This jersey that we wear today, it doesn't say 'Red Sox.' It says 'Boston.' We want to thank you, Mayor [Thomas] Menino, Governor [Deval] Patrick, the whole police department for the great job that they did this past week."
And then, the kicker.
"This is our f------- city. And nobody's going to dictate our freedom. Stay strong."
Fifty-four words, entirely ad-libbed yet so powerful that they represent the most transcendent moment of a possible Hall of Fame career.
Ortiz has been coming to work at Fenway for 14 years. He has hit 202 regular-season home runs and 12 more in the playoffs at the 104-year-old ballpark. His most memorable hit on Yawkey Way? Take your pick from the 12th-inning walk-off homer in Game 4 of the AL Championship Series that started the epic comeback against the New York Yankees, to the eighth-inning grand slam in Game 2 of the 2013 ALCS that sent Detroit Tigers right fielder Torii Hunter flipping over the fence, his legs juxtaposed in a "V" alongside bullpen cop Steve Horgan's raised arms.
But as Ortiz returns Monday for his final home opener, it's his speech in the aftermath of the Marathon bombings that rates as the retiring slugger's most iconic moment.
"Baseball is baseball. This is life. This is what we are," Ortiz said. "When it comes down to that, there's not a home run, there's not one hit that you can compare it to. Even if those things bring a lot of excitement to people, we're talking about life situations. I didn't want to go out there and talk about this because I don't want anything like that to happen -- ever. But once the situation shows up, as a citizen, as a human being, what you've got to do is just make sure everyone around you don't hide, make sure everyone around you fights back."
Fans were on edge as they filed into Fenway Park on the morning of Saturday, April 20, 2013.
Never mind that the lone surviving bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, had been captured the night before while hiding out in a boat in a backyard in nearby Watertown. Across the city, nerves were frayed. Normalcy, to the extent that anyone remembered what that was, would take a while to return.
The Red Sox held an emotional pregame ceremony to honor the heroic law enforcement officials and remember Krystle Campbell, Lu Lingzi and 8-year-old Martin Richard, who were killed in the bombing, and MIT policeman Sean Collier, murdered three nights later as the Tsarnaev brothers fled the city. Menino was in attendance. So, too, was Patrick, Boston police commissioner Ed Davis and a collection of city and state police. The team changed the lettering on the front from "Red Sox" to "Boston."
"I think they might have said David Ortiz was going to say something," Davis recalled, "but it didn't really click that what he was going to say was going to be so meaningful for everybody. He crystallized a moment in time. He was a guy that just sort of spoke for all of Boston."
Ortiz said he didn't know ahead of time that he would be asked to serve as an impromptu master of ceremonies and therefore hadn't prepared any remarks. But after watching the events of the previous four days, Ortiz didn't need a script to express what he had been feeling -- and in his trademark style: profound and profane.
"I can tell you one thing: Any other citizen that was there when all that was going on would be as angry as I was," Ortiz said. "I wanted to say more, but I knew that I was on camera."
As Ortiz spoke, the invited guests were walking off the field, Red Sox players mingling with the dignitaries. But everyone hung on Ortiz's words, one in particular catching their attention.
"We didn't know he was going to drop the F-bomb," said former Sox first baseman Mike Napoli, now with the Cleveland Indians. "I forget who I looked at, but we both turned to each other and our mouths were open. It was definitely all eyes on what David had to say. I felt like everything he said was really meaningful, and it meant a lot to him, to the people and to us."
Said Davis: "I remember standing next to Major [Dermot] Quinn from the state police, and I turned to him and I said, 'Did he say what I think he said?' And he shook his head and said, 'He sure did,' and then the whole place went crazy. I really thought he just said it all -- and just the way we felt about it, too. It was an incredible moment. It really was."
Julius Genachowski was working from his home in Washington, D.C., when he found out about Ortiz's choice of words, which were broadcast on live television.
"I went and watched the speech and said, 'This whole thing is crazy,'" said Genachowski, then the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. "I thought, this is a wonderful act of community leadership, and the government shouldn't be discouraging this, it should be encouraging it."
Rather than waiting until Monday to make a statement, Genachowski fired off a tweet -- "David Ortiz spoke from the heart at today's Red Sox game. I stand with Big Papi and the people of Boston" -- that he thought would be relevant only to the FCC trade press.
To Genachowski's amazement, it was retweeted more than 6,000 times.
"The thing that seemed clear to me was that [Ortiz] spoke from the heart in a way to help heal the community after a real disaster," Genachowski said. "His remarks were just a few sentences, but it really captured it. Those lines about 'our uniforms don't say Red Sox, they say Boston,' and 'this is our f------ city,' that was brilliant. To censor that would be like censoring the world's greatest writer. He nailed it. It never should've become an FCC question, and I was happy to just put that to bed and follow Big Papi's leadership."
Besides, there would've been a line of volunteers to help Ortiz pay it.
Ortiz's comments served as the keynote for an emotional day in which Jonny Gomes flexed after sliding into second base on a pinch-hit double and Daniel Nava belted a decisive three-run homer in the eighth inning against the Kansas City Royals.
The Red Sox played a prominent role in helping the city heal. They hung a jersey with the "617" area code in the dugout during games, rallied around the "Boston Strong" mantra, and after winning the World Series, paused during the victory parade to place the trophy along the Marathon finish line on Boylston Street.
But it was Ortiz, as always, who made the most indelible mark in Boston's recovery, a show of strength that President Obama recently called "one of the proudest moments of my presidency."
"Big Papi was saying what he felt about Boston -- 'Boston Strong' -- and how a terrorist attack was not going to change the basic spirit of that city," Obama said in a speech in Argentina last month in the wake of the terrorist attack in Brussels. "At that moment, he spoke about what America is."
Said Napoli: "It was so perfect -- and so David. He's this big, strong guy, but he has a big heart and he's a teddy bear, too. Coming from him, I think it comforted everyone, even us in the clubhouse, because he's a guy that everyone looks up to, idolizes. I still get the chills thinking about it."
And let that be Ortiz's legacy.