Dylan Cleaver on sport
Sport analysis and comment from Dylan Cleaver

Midweek Fixture: The Big Papi-sized problem with being a fan

By Dylan Cleaver

David Ortiz hits another one out of the park. Photo / AP
David Ortiz hits another one out of the park. Photo / AP

My favourite sportsman takes his final bow this week.

David Ortiz, Big Papi, the Large Father, Yankee Killer, call him what you want, is hanging up his cleats after a 20-year major league career - the past 14 with the Boston Red Sox - that has seen him accumulate, at the time of writing, 2469 hits, 540 of which travelled over the fence for home runs.

It was not so much the quantity or the power of the hitting that elevates Ortiz beyond the ordinary, but the way he did so in the biggest moments, under the most intense playoff pressure. He was, to steal a classic Americanism, the personification of 'clutch'.

I could write a career eulogy here that would satisfy some personal itch, but it would be largely pointless given the New Zealand branch of the Ortiz fan club would struggle to raise a quorum.

Instead it has given me a chance to meditate on the sheer irrationality of hero worship; the arbitrary nature of fandom; and the incongruity of a 40-something white New Zealand cricket nut investing so much time and emotion following the fortunes of a 40-year-old black Dominican baseballer.

It all started with my grandma, of course. She took that trip to the US Eastern Seaboard circa 1983 and brought me back a pair of blue Nikes, which were quite the talk of Levin Intermediate for a day or two, and a Boston Celtics t-shirt.

It could just have easily been a New York shirt of some description, or the Baltimore Orioles, and my life would have ended up so much poorer. I don't think I ever thanked the dear woman for steering me away from such travesties.

Anyway, in for a penny, in for a pound. It was Bird and the Celtics, the hopeless pre-Belichick Patriots and even the once-mighty Bruins. But most of all it was the hapless Red Sox, whose signature move was to trick you into thinking it was going to be their year before falling to some calamity, usually involving the Yankees.

Then along came Ortiz. By this stage my Boston obsession had morphed into new and more subversive territories, including the Pixies and Dennis Lehane, but at this time of year it was always the fortunes at Fenway Park my attention turned to.

It inevitably ended badly.

In 2004, facing a 0-3 series deficit against the damned Yankees, the Evil Empire, a pinstriped corporation so lacking in redeeming qualities it hurts me to even mention their name, he hit a walk-off homer and single in consecutive nights, sparking the Greatest Sports Story Ever Told.

It wasn't just 2004. The Red Sox followed 86 years of futility by winning in 2007 and 2013 also. There might be a purity involved in faithfully following a team that constantly falls short, but Ortiz' gap-toothed grin made it okay to follow a winner too.

When the Tsarnaev brothers wreaked havoc near the end of the 2013 Boston Marathon, it was Ortiz that provided an unlikely civic touchstone, saying, with uncommon passion: "This is our fucking city, and nobody gonna dictate our freedom."

Few quibbled with his choice of words.

So far, so fanboy. But there's a fish-hook in the story. In 2003 Ortiz took a confidential drugs test. He tested positive. He was one of four players of around 100 whose positive test was leaked. He has never tested positive since but many believe that is an indictment on the testing programme, rather than Ortiz.

My compass is one of natural suspicion. When it comes to sports deadly sins like match-fixing and PEDs my tolerance is set low. So why do I give Ortiz a virtual free pass?

Again, you go straight to the heart of the senselessness of becoming attached to someone or some team that doesn't even know you exist.

Why? Because I like him. I like the team. My head tells me this is wrong. Douches I know who support the Yankees tell me I'm wrong.

Yet it feels so right.

So, to cut a long paean short, Ortiz has one more post-season to permanently imprint himself into my internal Hall of Fame.

May he enjoy one more walk-off at Fenway, my favourite stadium and a place I've been to, oh, like zero times.

What did I say about fandom and the lack of rationale behind it...


India dominated the first test and rightly came away with a crushing victory. In many respects, New Zealand played quite well, which is in itself worrying.

But not as worrying as the brain snap of a selection that saw them pick three specialist spinners. It was a classic quantity over quality decision and predictably backfired. On a Bunsen burner of a wicket, New Zealand's spinners Mitchell Santner, Mark Craig and Ish Sodhi combined for 137.2 overs of work, taking a collective 10-461.

The folly of the decision was seen in India's two spinners took 16-356 in just three fewer overs.

New Zealand desperately needed an extra batsman, not spinner, in Kanpur.


I have no problem with India preparing turning pitches to suit their attack. What I have a big problem with is them appealing three times an over, putting intolerable pressure on the umpires, and there being no DRS system to even out the inevitable shockers.

The Luke Ronchi lbw decision in the first innings was one such occasion. It was an inexplicably poor decision from a good umpire, and one that would have been quickly righted with the technology available.


A classic British paper sting. Not the red-tops this time but the Daily Telegraph. Big Sam is in Big Trouble.

A even more thorough investigation into the relationship between American sportswriters and the Marriott hotel chain.

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