If one of the single greatest thing about being a baseball fan is watching young prospects come up, contribute every day, and become stars, then one of the hardest things is watching as franchise stalwarts age out of their heydays. Every year we citizens of Red Sox Nation speculate that this will finally be the year that Yankees' core shows some age (Mariano Rivera can't be human), and every year we seem to be wrong.
But we spend very little time anticipating the inevitable decline of our own players, perhaps in denial that our heroes can succumb to trivial human weaknesses like age. But of course, members of the Red Sox do get older, and they eventually bow out, or we have to watch them struggle through their slow decline. Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield might have been able to scrape out another year or so, but they elected (under some pressure, admittedly), to step aside gracefully.
So where am I going with this? If you looked at the photo at the top when you got to this page, you already know: I'm talking about David Ortiz. I certainly don't think that Ortiz is done, not by any stretch of the imagination, but I do think that the years of 140+ games are probably over.
It's only mid-spring training, but we're still dealing with the aftermath of the achilles problem that Ortiz suffered last year. The designated hitter is confident that he'll be available for Opening Day, and the medical reports out of camp don't suggest otherwise, so barring a setback, we should see #34 on the field when regulation play starts.
I sincerely hope that Ortiz can make it through the season without a stint on the disable list, but that's a gamble for players fifteen years his junior, so realistically it's likely he'll lose some games. Even though it's certainly not going to be this year, David Ortiz's final season as a Red Sox is on the horizon, and I for one am going to begin to prepare myself for that emotional time right now.
It's going to be even harder to see Big Papi go than most players, because he is now officially the last holdout from the 2004 Championship squad still on the team. When he goes, that is officially the end of an era. But Big Papi is on the Red Sox for the foreseeable future, and I plan to enjoy it to the fullest - as soon as he's healthy.