Friends: Or­tiz counted on fans to pro­tect him

Woonsocket Call - - FRONT PAGE - By MICHAEL WEIS­SENSTEIN and MARTÍN JOSÉ ADAMES ALCÁNTARA

SANTO DOMINGO, Do­mini­can Repub­lic — Beloved in his home­town, David Ortíz trav­eled the dan­ger­ous streets of Santo Domingo with lit­tle or no se­cu­rity, trust­ing in his fans to pro­tect him.

Big Papi’s guard was down even at hotspots like the Dial Bar and Lounge, where the Do­mini­can busi­ness and en­ter­tain­ment elite can cross paths with shadier fig­ures in a coun­try where for­tunes are of­ten made in drug smug­gling and money laun­der­ing.

As the for­mer Red Sox slug­ger lies in in­ten­sive care in Boston, re­cov­er­ing from the bul­let fired into his back at the Dial on Sun­day night, po­lice are in­ves­ti­gat­ing what as­pect of the na­tional hero’s life made him the tar­get of what ap­peared to be an as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempt.

Ortíz was so re­laxed at the open-air hotspot Sun­day that he had his back to the side­walk as a gun­man — a pas­sen­ger on a mo­tor­cy­cle — got off the bike just be­fore 9 p.m., ap­proached the 43-year-old re­tired ath­lete and fired a

sin­gle shot at close range be­fore es­cap­ing.

En­raged fans cap­tured the mo­tor­cy­clist and beat him bloody be­fore hand­ing him over to po­lice, but the gun­man was still at large Tues­day.

Doc­tors in Santo Domingo re­moved Or­tiz’s gall­blad­der and part of his in­testines, and the for­mer ballplayer was then flown to Boston for fur­ther treat­ment Mon­day night, un­der­go­ing two hours of ex­ploratory surgery.

Or­tiz’s wife, Tif­fany, said in a state­ment that he was “sta­ble, awake and rest­ing com­fort­ably” at Massachuse­tts Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal and was ex­pected to re­main there for sev­eral days.

The mo­tor­cy­clist, Eddy Vladimir Féliz Garcia, who had a 2017 ar­rest for drug pos­ses­sion, was one of sev­eral peo­ple in cus­tody as of Tues­day af­ter­noon, a law-en­force­ment of­fi­cial told The As­so­ci­ated Press on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause the of­fi­cial was not au­tho­rized to re­lease de­tails of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Ortíz has a six-bed­room, $6 mil­lion home in the wealthy Boston sub­urb of We­ston, Massachuse­tts, that he shared with his wife and three chil­dren but has put the place up for sale. He vis­its his fa­ther and sis­ter in Santo Domingo about six times a year, ac­cord­ing to a close friend who spoke to the AP on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause of the sen­si­tiv­ity of the sit­u­a­tion.

Ortíz stayed at his fa­ther’s apartment and was ac­tive on the so­cial scene in the cap­i­tal, hit­ting nightspots with a small group of friends that in­cluded TV per­son­al­i­ties and Do­mini­can reg­gae­ton mu­si­cians, whom Or­tiz would help by con­nect­ing them with es­tab­lished artists in the genre.

Ortíz couldn’t avoid run­ning across un­sa­vory char­ac­ters on the Santo Domingo so­cial scene but kept his dis­tance once he was warned about their shady back­grounds, the friend said.

“He may have spo­ken with them, but he didn’t know who they were,” the friend said. “He re­ally kept away from that world.”

Po­lice are in­ves­ti­gat­ing, how­ever, whether some brief re­la­tion­ship formed in Santo Domingo set in mo­tion a chain of events that led to the shoot­ing, a sec­ond law en­force­ment of­fi­cial told the AP.

The of­fi­cial de­clined to pro­vide fur­ther de­tails about the type of re­la­tion­ship or other as­pects of the rapidly de­vel­op­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Ortíz felt com­pletely se­cure in his home­town, the friend said, with ador­ing fans greet­ing him wher­ever he went.

“He felt pro­tected by the peo­ple,” the friend said. “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.”

Ortíz flew from Boston to Santo Domingo on May 5 to en­roll his teenage son, a promis­ing base­ball tal­ent, in one of the is­land’s gru­el­ing “academies” for fu­ture stars, the friend said. He also wanted to check on his foun­da­tion, which spon­sors surgery for sick chil­dren, and sign a cigar-pro­mo­tion deal.

On Sun­day night, he went out with the reg­gae­ton singer known as El Su­jeto and base­ball an­nouncer and TV per­son­al­ity Jhoel Lopez to Dial, a bar and cafe that started as an arm of a lux­ury auto-de­tail­ing busi­ness across the street.

In re­cent years, Dial turned from a site where peo­ple re­laxed as their cars were cleaned to a hotspot where Do­mini­can celebri­ties eat and drink, of­ten along­side peo­ple with for­tunes of du­bi­ous ori­gin.

Dial sits in a wealthy and rel­a­tively safe sec­tion of Santo Domingo, but the Do­mini­can Repub­lic is one of the world’s most dan­ger­ous coun­tries.

The mur­der rate stands at 12.5 killings per 100,000 peo­ple, plac­ing the Do­mini­can Repub­lic in the top 10 to 15% of the most vi­o­lent coun­tries in the world, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. State De­part­ment.

Photo by Keith Allison

David Or­tiz is re­port­edly in sta­ble con­di­tion at Massachuse­tts Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal, re­cov­er­ing from a shoot­ing in the Do­mini­can Repub­lic. A friend of the re­tired star said he trav­eled with min­i­mal se­cu­rity.

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