Former Boston Red Sox slugger David “Big Papi” Ortiz is out of intensive care just more than two weeks after being shot in the back while sitting in a bar in his native Dominican Republic.
The shooting stunned more than just the baseball world because of Big Papi’s status as a hero both in his home country and among sports fans in the United States. Authorities originally said the shooting was a murder-for-hire plot, but then said it was a case of mistaken identity.
It also raises a question: How safe are athletes and former athletes, who perform in a public glare and are open to scorn as well as platitudes, particularly on social media?
Also, why all the incivility out there?
About a month before Big Papi was shot, Cleveland Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer received death threats and other disturbing messages via social media after a poor outing.
On Sunday, a 14-year old girl ran onto the field at Dodger Stadium and hugged star outfielder Cody Bellinger of the Los Angeles Dodgers before being tackled by a security guard.
Alana Rizzo, a host/reporter for SportsNet LA, the team’s local broadcaster, tweeted:
Some idiot fan just ran on the field and hugged Bellinger. Security just got her out of here quickly. Player’s safety is no joke. If anyone is running after me that i don’t know, I’m tackling you. Unreal. Don’t be that girl. Player’s safety is to be taken seriously.
She’s not the only one thinking that way.
Even though fans must go through metal detectors at ballparks now, who knows what someone’s intent is? And there aren’t such safety measures available at bars and other public spots where athletes and former athletes might hang out.
There have been some extreme cases where athletes have been killed, in different circumstances.
In 1994, Colombian soccer star Andrés Escobar was killed days after scoring an own goal that helped eliminate his country from the World Cup.
On Sept. 23, 1978, California Angels outfielder Lyman Bostock died after being shot while a passenger in a car in Gary, Indiana, hours after playing against the Chicago White Sox.
In the days after Ortiz was shot, many Dominicans expressed embarrassment.
Among them was Red Sox infielder Eduardo Nunez, who told ESPN: “Just thinking about the fact that this happened to him in the Dominican Republic, it is unimaginable. For us, as Dominican players, it’s a very bad image. It is an international shame. We feel very embarrassed about what happened to him because he is a legend from our homeland, and this happened to him in our homeland.”
Franmil Reyes, the San Diego Padres’ rising young slugger, had a different outlook.
“Dominican is for me, the best place to protect their players,” Reyes said. “I don’t know what happened there, I have no information on what happened with Big Papi, but I feel really safe in my country and I would never change or move to live in another country or another place. I feel really safe.
“I love this country, too,” Reyes added. “The United States gives me a lot of opportunities, to my mom and my family, too, but I love my country and I would never change it. For sure there is nothing to worry about like people are saying out there.”
Padres teammate Eric Hosmer said he’s never had to worry about anything off the field, noting that he’s been lucky to play in Kansas City and San Diego, where people are generally respectful.
“There’s a lot of heckling that goes on during the games and all that. You understand why, but once the game’s over and you’re off the field, I know guys hope that the fans respect them off the field, whether they see them in a restaurant or whether they see them somewhere,” Hosmer said. “We’re just normal human beings at that point. Guys have families and stuff so you hope they treat you the same.”
Social media has clearly changed the way fans interact with athletes.
The Dodgers fan who hugged Bellinger later posted on Twitter: “best day ever? I think so” with a blue heart emoji.
In her bio she wrote: “worth it.”
Bellinger eventually brushed it off as being “pretty funny, to be honest,” but appeared shaken at the time.
Afterward, he told reporters it was “Definitely odd. She got tackled and I said, ‘You know you’re going to jail?’ and she was like, “Yeah, I know.’” … It was funny.”
And then there’s the case of Bauer, who has taken to Twitter with mixed results.
He’s known to engage with everyone from fans to trolls to rivals.
Early last season, he traded barbs with Alex Bregman of the Houston Astros. In January, a college student accused him of harassing her on Twitter.
In early May, he revealed that he’d received death threats and other vile messages via direct messages on social media after a loss to the Red Sox.
He tweeted: “Stop online harassment, bullying, and hate speech.”
He called out Instagram in another tweet, saying, “your platform doesn’t seem to give me a way to report this crap. Do you condone this type of behavior on your platform?”
“I had DMs later that night saying that the guy, whoever it was, wished I had a line drive hit through my skull so I’d die in a pool of my own blood on the mound in front of millions of people,” Bauer said. “He said he wanted to slit my throat with a butcher knife and bathe in my blood. I had another guy in Detroit who said he was going to
run up on me with 20 of his people and dismember me and video it and send it to my mom.”
Bauer is a noted drone enthusiast who cut his right pinky finger during the AL Championship Series in 2016, which pushed back his scheduled start by one game and then forcing him out of that start after the stitched-up wound started bleeding.
On Monday, he posted a screenshot of a tweet in which someone said: “Hope the drone gets you in the jugular next time.”
Bauer responded that he was “up early and headed to the field to fly my drones” and that he hoped that person “doesn’t get his wish…pretty sure this breaks @twitter platform policy somehow. When will something be done to stop this?”
He also continued a feud with baseball writer Keith Law, telling him: “Keep pulling this subtweet bs and we can go to war. Just make sure you bring your booster stool to stand on. I don’t like punching down on people.”
And then there was the strange case of Padres second baseman Ian Kinsler, who was taking a pounding from fans, both on social media and at the ballpark, during a rough start to the season. After hitting a three-run home run to help the Padres beat the Pittsburgh Pirates in mid-May, he shouted obscenities and appeared to raise his middle fingers as he crossed the plate. He later said he did it to fire up his teammates, denying that it was a message to fans. Two days later, after he was fined by MLB, the bat company he co-owns with musician Jack White, Warstic, ran a promotion on Twitter and Instagram to help pay the fine, with the promo code FLIPOFF20. Kinsler had flipped his bat after hitting the dinger.
The Twitter and Instagram posts were deleted later that day.