Bruce Springsteen had Clarence Clemons. The Yankees had Babe Ruth. The Red Sox have David Ortiz.

For a little while longer, anyway.

You may have heard about the big man. Ortiz is the greatest clutch hitter in the history of the Boston Red Sox, so ordained by a plaque the team owner made in 2005 and confirmed by fans throughout New England. After 20 years on baseball’s biggest stage, he will play in his last regular-season game Sunday at Fenway Park.

Over time, Ortiz has become just as well known by another name: Big Papi, a wonderful amalgam of English and Spanish that reflects his size and influence. Like Ruth, Ortiz has a knack for connecting with fans young and old. He can be the oversized teddy bear with the high-wattage smile while also striking fear into the heart of every opposing hurler seeing him spit in his batting glove and clap those meaty hands together.

His gravitational pull extended deep into Maine, where a song, a bat, a banner and a ball provide indelible memories for a handful of folks fortunate enough to have crossed his path.

“He’s really, really a nice guy, in all ways, not just baseball,” said Dave McHugh, a retired postman from South Portland who works security at the Red Sox spring training facility and, during the season, at Hadlock Field in Portland. “I don’t think I’ve seen anyone like him. He’s exceptional.”

McHugh wasn’t the only Mainer who met Ortiz and came away impressed.

Craig Candage was the Sea Dogs' clubhouse manager from 1998 to 2008 and also worked spring training with the Red Sox where he got to know David Ortiz. Ortiz gave Candage an autographed bat and Candage then gave it as a gift to a close friend who is a big fan of Ortiz. Ortiz's old locker is on the far right.

Craig Candage was the Sea Dogs’ clubhouse manager from 1998 to 2008 and also worked spring training with the Red Sox where he got to know David Ortiz. Ortiz gave Candage an autographed bat and Candage then gave it as a gift to a close friend who is a big fan of Ortiz. Ortiz’s old locker is on the far right. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

The bat

In spring training of 2003, Craig Candage was shagging fly balls in Fort Myers, Florida, when a large Dominican player introduced himself. The player was new to the Red Sox organization, having been let go by the Twins.

“Hey, I’m David.”

Candage was a clubhouse attendant working the first of his seven spring trainings with the Red Sox. He had been a bat boy for the Portland Sea Dogs during high school. After graduation, he became a clubhouse manager at Hadlock Field, a job he would hold for 11 years.

“(Players) come to you because they know you’re the people who can take care of them,” Candage said of his clubhouse duties. “So when I was there, (Ortiz) wanted to know how I was, everything about me, what was going on with my life. He had a genuine interest.”

There was some doubt Ortiz would make the big-league team that spring, what with Kevin Millar, Jeremy Giambi and Shea Hillenbrand also competing for playing time at first base and designated hitter.

“We thought he might be a release in spring training,” said Candage, 36, now a real estate agent in Portland. “We actually had his stuff ready to go a couple times.”

As everyone knows, Ortiz settled in as designated hitter, although it took a month or two before things shook out. Hillenbrand was traded. Giambi lost the DH job.

And Ortiz blossomed into Big Papi.

In the summer of 2008, Ortiz injured his wrist and went on the disabled list. As part of an injury rehab assignment, he played three games in Portland, all of them sold out. As a Sea Dog, Ortiz went 2 for 3 his first game and 0 for 4 his second.

Rain put the third game in doubt, but it finally started after a two-hour delay. The door in the right-field wall opened and, well after other Sea Dogs had passed through on their way to the dugout, Candage walked out with Ortiz. The crowd, naturally, erupted into a standing ovation.

Candage turned his head. “Oh yeah,” he deadpanned. “They love me in this town.”

Ortiz cracked up.

A few other Candage memories from that series:

Ortiz requested his uniform be ironed because it had come out of the laundry a bit wrinkled. “Candy,” he said, “I gotta look good for these people in Portland.”

The Sea Dogs gathered around Ortiz to hear stories about his struggles in the minors. “He said don’t worry about going out and chasing girls,” Candage said. “Get to the next level.”

Ortiz also sprang for the post-game meal each of his three nights, although he never ate a bite. Each meal cost about $1,500 – shrimp scampi, steak, lobster, sushi – and Candage used Papi’s American Express Centurion, or ‘black card,’ to pay for them.

“He came with probably 50 bats and handed out about 45 of them to the minor league guys,” Candage said. “He was handing out spikes, batting gloves.”

One of those bats went to Candage, adorned with Ortiz’s autograph. Not that Candage had asked. It was simply Ortiz showing his appreciation.

“Everyone was equal to him, whether you cleaned his jock or you pitched to him,” Candage said. “If you were in baseball, you were in baseball.”

And if you were a fan, Ortiz understood and appreciated the attention.

“He embraced the public spotlight better than anyone I’ve ever seen,” Candage said. “The bigger he got, he got nicer and more giving, which is very rare in that sport.”

The song

Lucien Hodell, who lives in Harpswell, was invited to meet Big Papi in 2008 after he helped inspire a song about the Red Sox slugger "Hey, Big Papi." Now 14, Hodell remains a staunch Red Sox fan.

Lucien Hodell, who lives in Harpswell, was invited to meet Big Papi in 2008 after he helped inspire a song about the Red Sox slugger “Hey, Big Papi.” Now 14, Hodell remains a staunch Red Sox fan.

In 2008, Sandi Ste. George and her kindergarten class of art, music and dance welcomed a new student to the West Harpswell School. His name was Lucien, a boy from Haiti with cerebral palsy. A local family was in the process of adopting him.

Ste. George was immediately struck by Lucien Hodell’s big smile and infectious enthusiasm. He also seemed obsessed with the Boston Red Sox, and with David Ortiz in particular. So much so that Lucien became known as Little Papi.

Ste. George pulled out her guitar and together, the children helped her write a song with “Hey, Big Papi!” as the chorus:


He’s a baseball player in a Red Sox cap
He sure knows how to use a ball and a bat
When he steps up to the plate you know that ball’s gonna fly
And then he hits it in the stands and you can kiss it goodbye
Hey, Big Papi!

They performed it for the Harpswell Community Broadcasting Network and, with the kids raising fists high and pumping them at each refrain, the song became a hit on the local access channel. The Red Sox got wind of it and invited Lucien to Fenway. As luck would have it, Ortiz came to Portland first on an injury rehab appearance.

Ste. George led the crowd in a performance of the song before a rain-delayed game and Lucien wound up meeting the big slugger beneath the right field bleachers at Hadlock. Ortiz placed a hand on Lucien’s head and called him buddy.

“That’s what I really like, being involved with children,” Ortiz told the Press Herald at the time. “The smile on his face, just seeing him and hanging out with him … a guy like me should take advantage of that.”

The next weekend they reconnected at Fenway Park during batting practice before a Yankees game. Then Sox manager Terry Francona and four players – Jason Varitek, J.D. Drew, Mike Lowell and Jacoby Ellsbury – signed a baseball for Lucien, who rode around on his mother Lori Hodell’s shoulders.

“We were so excited to see David Ortiz,” she said, “that we forgot to ask him to sign the ball.”

Lucien is now 14 and in the ninth grade at Harpswell Coastal Academy in Brunswick. He remains a loyal Red Sox fan and watches many of their games on television.

“I have to impose a curfew because sometimes he’ll stay up way too late,” his mother said. “There are other players who have come up along the way that he really likes, but Big Papi has always had his heart.”

What does Lucien remember about the man who, like him, was also born on the island of Hispaniola?

“How big he was,” Lucien said, “and how nice he was.”

As for the prospect of a 2017 Red Sox lineup without Ortiz, Lucien understands that “everybody is going to miss him” but that “we’ve got (Mookie) Betts and (Dustin) Pedroia, so we’ll be OK.”

A video of the “Hey, Big Papi” song still plays occasionally on the local access channel in Harpswell and, Ste. George said, was shown at Fenway at least once.

Ste. George, now retired and living in Portland, accompanied Hodell and Lucien to Boston for that Yankees game in 2008.

“It was obvious that Papi remembered him,” she said. “He said, ‘Hey, Little Buddy!’ He seemed Papi-ish: lovable, smiling and warm.”

The banner

Caitlin Cunliffe is an 11-year-old sixth grader from Minot who plays softball, soccer and basketball. She’s the youngest of four children and her father, well, he’s rather enthusiastic about sports.

Caitlin Cunliffe points skyward, just like David Ortiz after a home run, as the 11-year-old from Minot poses with a farewell card put together with her father, Dan Cunliffe II, and signed by folks from all over Maine.

Caitlin Cunliffe points skyward, just like David Ortiz after a home run, as the 11-year-old from Minot poses with a farewell card put together with her father, Dan Cunliffe II, and signed by folks from all over Maine.

Dan Cunliffe II owns a jewelry and sports memorabilia business in Auburn. He’s been to nine All-Star Games, and even rode shotgun in the pickup truck that paraded David Ortiz over the Roberto Clemente Bridge in Pittsburgh in 2006.

“My son is a Yankees fan, so he rode with (Derek) Jeter,” Cunliffe said. “I rode with Papi.”

The trip came about because Cunliffe won a contest sponsored by Chevrolet, which named him the No. 1 fan in the country. His entry included a photo from the 2004 World Series at Fenway Park, where he displayed a large banner with a Red Sox logo and “We Mainers Believe” along with hundreds of signatures of Maine fans. Author Stephen King, who was at Game 1, saw Cunliffe holding the banner and said, “Are all those from Maine? Well, I’ve got to sign that.”

A dozen years later, Cunliffe figured the banner theme might work for an airline-sponsored contest with the grand prize of a trip to Boston to meet Ortiz. Cunliffe has a friend with multiple sclerosis who is a die-hard Sox fan.

“My goal was to get him to meet Papi,” Cunliffe said.

So Caitlin and Dan designed a 2-by-6-foot farewell card for Big Papi. They brought it first to a Sea Dogs game and then to Caitlin’s summer softball tournament.

“We were the first two to sign it,” Caitlin said. “I just think he’s an awesome hitter and a great player and all. I love seeing him and his signature style.”

They invited others to sign the banner and didn’t have to twist any arms. Eventually, they submitted a photo of Caitlin pointing skyward in the manner of a post-homer Papi, with the banner at her feet. Behind her are balloons, a poster and the David Ortiz nameplate Dan obtained from the parade in Pittsburgh.

They didn’t win the contest, but still hope to deliver the banner, along with an identical one Dan and his two oldest kids – Corey and Courtney – brought to San Diego for this year’s All-Star Game and to Yankee Stadium in August and Boston in September. They call that version the Celebrity All-Star banner.

“It’s been a fun thing,” Cunliffe said. “Even if they’re not Red Sox fans, they respect Papi and want to wish him well.”

Through a credit card rewards program, Cunliffe has tickets for Game 2 of the ALDS and a pre-game, on-field pass. He’s not sure whether, in his 15 minutes on the Fenway turf, Ortiz will notice him holding the farewell banner.

“I would love to get a photo of him with it,” Cunliffe said. “But when you put a lot of effort into giving somebody a gift, the ultimate goal is to try to get it to Papi, however that happens.”

The ball

Dan Feeney appreciated the offer of Red Sox tickets to a Monday night game last month, but told his buddy no. He had to work the next morning.

But 30 minutes before the car was scheduled to leave South Portland, Feeney called back.

Every trip to Fenway Park is memorable, but getting the 536th home run ball by David Ortiz was special for Rob Jordan of South Portland. And he and his friends meeting Big Papi after? Priceless.

Every trip to Fenway Park is memorable, but getting the 536th home run ball by David Ortiz was special for Rob Jordan of South Portland. And he and his friends meeting Big Papi after? Priceless.

“You know, Rob, if you haven’t gotten rid of that last ticket, I’ll go.”

Dan Feeney, Rob Jordan, Chris Biskup and Connor Hasson all went to South Portland High together. They spent endless hours playing Wiffle ball in Biskup’s backyard. They range in age from 27 (Feeney) to 24 (Hasson).

“Those are probably the only people I know who are as big a Red Sox fan as I am,” Hasson said. “That was the cool thing about being at that game with those three guys.”

That evening, David Ortiz launched his 536th career home run, tying Mickey Mantle on the all-time list. The ball bounced in the Boston bullpen and Jordan caught it on the first hop.

When a team representative approached and offered some memorabilia in exchange for the ball, Biskup and Feeney advised Jordan to hold out. They returned to their bleacher seats, where a member of Ortiz’s personal security team found them.

“David wants the ball,” he said, according to Biskup, “and he wants to meet you guys.”

The quartet followed security beneath the first-base bleachers and passed through a door to an area that connects the home clubhouse to the tunnel leading to the Red Sox dugout. Although the game was still in the seventh inning, Ortiz suddenly appeared with a big smile on his face.

“When he came around the corner, I wish I had the video,” Feeney said, “because I bet all four of our jaws hit the ground.”

Without being prompted, Ortiz handed Jordan an autographed bat as thanks for returning the baseball.

“He was super excited to get the ball back,” Jordan said. “He was really enjoying the whole thing. He gave a pretty good laugh when we told him he shouldn’t retire.”

“One thing I really took away,” Biskup said, “was how confident he was that they were going to win the World Series this year. He talked for about a minute about winning the last one and riding off into the sunset. I probably thanked him five times for everything he’s done.”

Their parents had Carl Yastrzemski. Their grandparents had Ted Williams. They have David Ortiz.

“You think about all the demands he must have on his time this year, his final season,” Hasson said. “You’d think that sort of stuff would be wearing on him. But you never would have known it. For those five minutes, you would have thought that was the only place he wanted to be. He couldn’t have been more welcoming and pleasant.”

Hasson reflected on Ortiz’s career.

“The clutch hits, obviously, are what stands out,” he said. “But just as much is his personality that is larger than life. He appreciates the fan base and how passionate they are. You could see that with his Boston Marathon speech.”

In retrospect, Hasson said he wishes he and Biskup and Feeney had asked for an autographed baseball, something to hold the way that Jordan cradled the bat.

“But shaking his hand? That memory and that story that the four of us will have forever,” Hasson said, “is more than any tangible souvenir.”