Fans of former Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz are hoping Big Papi makes a big recovery, and urged him to “stay strong” after he survived a weekend shooting in his hometown Dominican Republic that left him with damage to his liver and other organs.
The home-run hitter’s larger-than-life legend is only bound to grow after surviving a close-range bullet in the back that forced doctors to remove his gallbladder and a small part of his intestines to control the bleeding from his liver.
Ortiz, 43, was listed in stable condition in the intensive care unit at Clinica Abel Gonzalez after surgery. By Monday evening he was at the airport and on a jet sent by the Boston Red Sox. After Ortiz’s flight arrived in Boston late on Monday, he was taken by ambulance to Massachusetts General Hospital, local media said.
Dozens of fans crowded the Santo Domingo hospital earlier, causing a traffic jam. In the U.S., fans prayed for his recovery and wished him well, with New England Patriots star Julian Edelman assuring him on Instagram: “Papi, all of New England has your back.”
The Red Sox offered “all available resources,” including the ambulance aircraft sent to bring him back to Boston.
“He’s on the Mount Rushmore of Boston sports,” said Eddie Romero, the team’s assistant general manager.
Before he was operated on, Ortiz told doctors: 'Please don’t let me die, I’m a good man.” according to reports.
Ortiz, who splits his time between Miami and the Dominican Republic, was at the Dial Bar and Lounge in Santo Domingo when two people rode up on a motorcycle late Sunday. One got off and approached Big Papi and shot the former Red Sox All-Star in the lower back at “nearly point blank range,” according to TMZ and Diario Libre.
One of the suspects, identified later as 25-year-old Eddy Feliz Garcia, was tracked down and beaten to a bloody pulp by others near the scene before being arrested. The other is still at large, as police have not yet tracked him down.
The crime was initially reported as a robbery, though Dominican police have denied those reports and are still investigating whether the shooting was an attempted assassination.
Reports, including one in Diario Libre, a Dominican newspaper, said Ortiz had been warned that his life was in danger for allegedly dating a woman with close ties to a reputed drug dealer. Ortiz has been married to Tiffany Ortiz for 17 years, and has three children.
An Ortiz spokesman, Leo Lopez, rejected the affair-with-a-woman theory, but said it was certain that the shooting was a hired attack. Viral video of the attack shows Ortiz sitting with friends when the shooter approaches, and a puff of smoke appears before Ortiz clutches his stomach and falls to his left side.
Officials said the bullet hit him in the back before exiting his stomach.
Police said that when the bullet passed through Ortiz, it then struck his friend, Jhoel Lopez, a local TV host, in the right leg.
Ortiz, who retired from baseball in 2016 after helping the Red Sox win three World Series, is a popular figure in the Dominican Republic, where he was known to frequent bars and restaurants like the place where the attack happened.
Ortiz’s father, Leo Ortiz, told reporters earlier Monday that his son was expected to make a complete recovery.
ESPN reported that former Dominican Republic President Leonel Fernandez visited Ortiz in the hospital.
Ortiz also got well wishes from another former president.
“Six years ago, David Ortiz’s spirit and resolve helped us all begin to heal from the Boston Marathon bombing,” former President Barack Obama wrote on Twitter. “Today, I want to join many others in wishing him a speedy recovery of his own. Get well soon, Papi.”
Ortiz made headlines that year after a viral speech at Fenway Park as the Red Sox returned to the stadium after the 2013 terrorist attack which devastated the city.
“This jersey that we wear today, it doesn’t say Red Sox,” he said at the time. "It says Boston... This is our f---ing city. And nobody’s going to dictate our freedom. Stay strong.”