Vin Sylvia: State of 'nation'? NH loves Ortiz
MAYBE it was the residual good will from a third World Series championship in 10 years. Maybe it was the pleasure of being outdoors while most folks were working or in school on a spring weekday that actually felt like spring.
Most likely it was the palpable excitement created by beloved Red Sox slugger David Ortiz's first visit to New Hampshire.
Or, as Papi called it, "this beautiful nation."
Whatever the reason, Sox fans — long a pessimistic, reactionary lot — seemed unfazed by the team's 2-4 start to the season as they welcomed Ortiz to the State House Plaza Monday at an event announcing the New Hampshire Lottery's new Red Sox-themed scratch ticket.
Hundreds of fans of all ages — including bunches of grade-school kids on well-timed field trips — greeted Ortiz with chants of "MVP! MVP!" when the World Series Most Valuable Player emerged from the State House and descended the steps toward a waiting microphone, accompanied by Sox COO Sam Kennedy, Lottery executive Charlie McIntyre and Gov. Maggie Hassan.
Or, as Papi called her, "the mayor."
Hassan didn't seem bothered by the demotion, announced while Ortiz was presenting her with a bobblehead in his likeness. The governor-mayor responded by embracing the beloved Sox slugger, just as she'd done after her gushing introductory remarks.
"I have had the great privilege and honor of introducing some pretty extraordinary people in my term as governor," Hassan said in those remarks. "But I have to say, I have never been more excited to introduce someone than I am today — not just because he is an extraordinarily gifted baseball player but also a hard-working and disciplined one.
"David Ortiz truly cares about Red Sox Nation. He has led this nation in good times and in bad, and for that, we all owe him not only our thanks because of what he's done to make the Red Sox so successful but also because he's demonstrated the kind of pride and resiliency that define us."
One thing Hassan didn't do, though, was have Ortiz take her picture with his now-infamous smartphone.
Six days after posing with President Obama during the Red Sox' visit to the White House for the selfie seen 'round the world — a photo widely promoted by the phone's manufacturer, with whom Ortiz has an endorsement deal — Papi kept his Samsung in his pocket at the State House.
In fact, after answering a couple of puff questions during what was supposed to be a few minutes of media availability after the public event, Ortiz abruptly walked away from reporters and strode out of the building upon mention of the selfie controversy by a Boston television reporter.
While many fans were disappointed that what seemed to be a genuinely fun moment at the White House turned out to be a crass promotional opportunity, those on the State House grounds — including several who raised the subject up themselves — were more than willing to forgive Ortiz for Selfiegate.
Frank and Anita O'Malley of Concord decided to use the first day of their vacation to attend Monday's event. Anita, who said she has worked as a technician at Elliot hospital for 45 years, made her first trip to Fenway Park with a group of co-workers last year and described tearing up the first time she looked around inside the ancient ballyard. Her husband answered eagerly when asked if they had a favorite player.
"David Ortiz — Big Papi," he said. "Hard not to like a guy like that — even after he went for the big bucks again."
Jennifer Army of Epsom, wearing a Red Sox uniform jersey emblazoned with Ortiz's name and number, said she hoped to have him autograph the shirt for a charity raffle to fund her 13-year-old son's school trip to Washington next spring.
"Big Papi is my favorite, despite the recent controversy," Army said.
When it was his turn to address the crowd, Ortiz threw some love back its way.
"It's an honor for me to be in this beautiful nation — New Hampshire," he said, the verbal gaffe possibly owing to the abundant references to Red Sox Nation. "I've heard a lot of good things about it."
Most of those good words, he said, have been from his wife and kids, who enjoy visiting the state for skiing excursions.
Ever-mindful of those mounting endorsement obligations, Ortiz also praised the Lottery's funding of education in New Hampshire, even citing the amount the Lottery says it has contributed to schools: $1.5 billion.
"That's outstanding," he said. "That's awesome."
He concluded his brief remarks by saying, "Thank you for having me here. It's a pleasure. I love New Hampshire, and I'll be back."
Soon after, Ortiz was on his way back to Boston, where the last-place Red Sox hoped to rebound from a weekend sweep by the Brewers in the first Fenway series of the season.
Brian Bechtler of Concord, a retired electrician who said he became a Boston sports fan after moving to New Hampshire from New York in 1976, wasn't worried. Wearing a jacket adorned with various Red Sox logos — including patches celebrating the Sox' 2004 and 2007 World Series victories — said he had two more patches to add: "One for 2013 and one for 2014."
"Even though they're off to a rough start, their lineup is tough — it's packed. And with Big Papi in the middle of it, they'll be an excellent team again this year."
Vin Sylvia is a New Hampshire Union Leader deputy managing editor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @VinSylvia.