His plea seemingly unheeded, the retired Red Sox slugger, affectionately known as Big Papi and a national hero in the Dominican Republican, today is holed up in a hospital room after being shot at a Santo Domingo bar at near point-blank range.
“I like to go to my country, and I know that people love you and take care of you,” he told an ESPN reporter in 2015. “But [the street hustlers] are doing their thing, and they are not in their right mind, no matter who is who, and I do not want to walk with an AK-47 over a car there, I do not want to go full of guns there because I’m not a gunslinger, and I’m not a problem of any kind.”
Ortiz hoped that the country’s head of police would take more steps to increase security.
“We cannot live in that anxiety that every time you go out of your house, a [thug] comes and takes away what you have on you,” he added. “Many people are losing their lives. Our country is a diamond that we have to take care of and defend fully and hope that things improve.”
Ortiz, who made nearly $160 million over his 20-year career, also repeatedly referred to growing up amid gang violence and drug trafficking in his 2017 autobiography "Papi: My Story," writing that "it had a devastating effect on the culture then, and it's still a huge problem now."
The slugger is now recovering at a Massachusetts hospital while police continue their investigation into the shooting. Authorities have so far arrested at least two people in the incident.
One suspect was identified as Eddy Vladimir Feliz Garcia, who is expected to face an accomplice to attempted murder charge for his alleged role in the targeted shooting, according to the Boston Globe. However, his lawyer, Devi Solano, insisted Garcia was just an innocent motorcycle driver who had no idea who he was driving.
“He is David Ortiz’s number one fan,” Solano told the Boston Globe. “Since [Ortiz] won the World Series in 2004, he has cut out articles and pictures of Ortiz and put them on his walls.”
The second person arrested in the investigation wasn’t identified. There was no public indication the man was the suspected shooter. Police haven’t revealed a motive behind the shooting.
Ortiz, 43, was at the bar with reggaeton singer El Sujeto and TV personality Jhoel Lopez. The bar was described as a place where Dominican celebrities eat and drink alongside people who have made money in shady business dealings, according to the Associated Press.
A friend told the Associated Press that Ortiz felt safe in his hometown whether or not he had run into unsavory figures in the Santo Domingo social scene.
“He felt protected by the people,” his friend told the Associated Press. “He is one of the most loved people in the Dominican Republic. He felt no fear despite the fact that there’s street crime here. Even the guys in the dangerous neighborhoods respected him.”
Ortiz had no problems visiting Santo Domingo in the past. He visited his father in the city up to six times a year and flew out in May to help his son enroll in one of the premier baseball academies on the island, in addition to checking in on his foundation and signing a cigar-promotion deal, his friend said.
Despite Ortiz's seeming ease at returning home, the Dominican Republic still rates in the top 10 to 15 percent of most violent countries in the world. The murder rate stands at 12.5 killings per 100,000 people, according to the U.S. State Department.
There were more than 1,300 reported killings in 2018, which dropped from 1,561 in 2017 and 1,616 in 2016, according to State Department figures. The Dominican Republic’s Citizen Observatory also reported that 2,145 people were wounded with guns in 2018.
The Overseas Security Advisory Council, the liaison for security information-sharing between the U.S. State Department and the U.S. private sector, detailed in a report that the Dominican Republic still faces a serious problem with drug trafficking and money laundering.
“This situation is worse due to a lack of law enforcement resources, poorly paid and trained police officers and rampant corruption.”
The U.S. State Department also released a travel advisory in April over concerns about armed robbery, homicide and sexual assault.
Ortiz arrived back in Boston on Tuesday and underwent a second surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital to remove his gallbladder and part of his intestine.
Ortiz’s representative, Leo Lopez, told multiple news outlets his client was up and walking around with help of his sister.
“David arrived at Massachusetts General Hospital last night and underwent a successful second surgery. He’s is stable, awake and resting comfortably this morning in the ICU where he is expected to remain for the next several days," Tiffany Ortiz, David’s wife, said in a statement. “On behalf of me and my family, I want to thank John and Linda Henry, Tom Werner, Sam Kennedy and the Boston Red Sox for all that they are doing for David and our family, as well as Dr. Larry Ronan and the amazing staff at Massachusetts General Hospital.”
Tiffany Ortiz also thanked everyone for the support that her husband had received and asked for privacy as he worked toward recovery.
Ortiz brought the Red Sox to three World Series championships, was a 10-time All-Star and hit 541 home runs during his career.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.