SAN DIEGO — On the plane ride to California, where so many over the years have found only fool’s gold, David Ortiz gathered his young Boston Red Sox All-Star teammates and delivered an All-Star message.

He looked at Jackie Bradley Jr. Looked at Mookie Betts. Looked at Xander Bogaerts and Steven Wright. It was a JetBlue charter flight from Boston, and they were eating burgers, but it was Big Papi’s message they devoured.

“He told us a lot of guys only make it to the All-Star Game once,” Wright said. “He wanted to make sure we enjoyed every moment. Soak it in. Learn as much as you can.”

The snapshot moment from the 87th All-Star Game was easy on a brilliant Tuesday evening here in Petco Park. Though Kansas City’s Eric Hosmer belted a home run and drove in two and wound up as the Most Valuable Player in a 4-2 American League victory, the snapshot moment came when Ortiz took ball four in the third inning.

He ambled down to first base, two decades’ worth of major league wear and tear evident in his legs, and was met there by pinch runner Edwin Encarnacion.

“Go get ’em,” Ortiz told him. “Have fun.”

“I’m never going to forget that moment,” Encarnacion said. “It was so special.”

With that, Ortiz U-turned toward the first base dugout, where he saw the entire AL team had flooded onto the field for an emotional reception. One by one, they slapped his hand and patted him on the shoulder as the sun set on another closing chapter in Ortiz’s story.

But in a rarity on the big stage, under the brightest of lights, the most important stuff was what we didn’t see.

It was Ortiz’s private message to his Red Sox comrades at 30,000 feet Sunday.

And it was his private message to his AL teammates Tuesday that resonated the most.

“It was really special,” Orioles outfielder Mark Trumbo said. “It was how much he enjoys making an impact on the younger players.

“How everyone in the room has the ability to do something special for someone else. When you see someone with ability, take time to help them out.”

Pay it forward. What a concept. In baseball and in life, if everyone took these words to heart, how much better could this world be? Everyone has the ability to do something special for someone else. How great would it be if that really happened?

These words resonate loudly today, both outside the game in our increasingly troubled world and inside the game as a new generation of young, talented players charge forward.

In catcher Salvador Perez, first baseman Hosmer, second baseman Jose Altuve, shortstop Bogaerts and third baseman Manny Machado, the AL produced the first starting infield and catcher in All-Star history in which all players were 26 or younger.

There were 34 first-time All-Stars in San Diego. There were a record 30 All-Stars born outside of the United States.

The hardball times…they are a-changing.

Here Ortiz was Monday, talking about how much he misses Derek Jeter and Ichiro Suzuki at these Midsummer Classics. Jeter, of course, retired two years ago. Ichiro is gamely chasing his 3,000th hit (he’s 10 away) at 42 but wasn’t an All-Star this year.

He spoke passionately about how they represented the game so well. They did things the right way. And their absence is noticed.

What Ortiz did not mention was that next summer at Marlins Park in Miami, and the year after that at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., and in years beyond, it is going to be Bradley and Betts and Mike Trout who miss him. It will be Machado, Altuve, Hosmer and others whose responsibility it is to pitch in and carry this game’s torch into the future.

“I worry about this game a lot,” Ortiz said during a conversation before Tuesday night’s game. “This game has a great future. If I can do something or say something to make you better, that’s what I want to do. That’s just me.

“When a player gives you advice, the players take it more serious. If I’m giving advice to a kid from the Dominican Republic, I want him to do well. I want to be able to enjoy his career and watch what he’s doing for a long time.”

At a time when baseball works hard to engage a young audience, it also remains very attentive to staying connected with its history. Maybe even more than Ortiz’s exit from the game, simply because of its San Diego setting, the most emotional moment of the evening came during pregame ceremonies. Commissioner Rob Manfred enlisted the legendary broadcaster Dick Enberg to announce from the field that the sport is naming its annual batting championships after Hall of Famers Rod Carew (AL) and the late Tony Gwynn (NL).

It was a thrilling moment, the kind of goosebump-inducing theater that baseball can produce so well. The Petco Park crowd of 42,386 broke into a deafening chant of “Tony! Tony! Tony!” as Gwynn’s widow, Alicia, fought back tears on the field with son Tony Jr. and daugher Anisha at her side.

Gwynn, Carew, Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Ortiz…the game pays its respects and rolls on.

“You’re always going to compare them,” said Seattle’s Robinson Cano—a teammate of Jeter and Rivera in New York and a witness to Ortiz’s impassioned speech Tuesday. “They’re great players. They’re great people. It’s sad to see them leave.

“That’s something everyone, including myself, we’re always going to appreciate playing with them.”

Marlins flamethrower Jose Fernandez, just 23, told ESPN’s Marly Rivera on Monday that he dreamed of facing Ortiz and that he would throw him three fastballs down the middle.

“I want to watch him hit a home run,” Fernandez said. … “Ninety miles per hour, so there is no chance that he fouls them or misses them.”

So would this be shades of Adam Wainwright? Two years ago in Minnesota, the Cardinals starter served up an opposite-field double to Jeter in the Yankee legend’s final All-Star Game and then promptly told a national television audience that he grooved the pitch to Jeter.

After Ortiz bounced to first in the first inning, sure enough, there was Fernandez on the mound when Big Papi stepped to the plate in the third.

Three fastballs?

Fernandez opened up with an 80 mph changeup.

“We’re going to discuss that later,” Ortiz quipped.

Then he saw five straight fastballs, worked the count to full…and took ball four on another 80 mph change.

Ortiz comically wagged a finger at Fernandez as he made his way to first, toward his exit for a pinch runner.

Then, not long after tipping his cap to the fans, there he was in the interview room, talking about how much he’d love to see Fernandez in the Boston rotation. The Marlins sure will enjoy hearing those quotes.

Really, though, it ended exactly the way it should: Ortiz at 40 battling Fernandez, just a kid, the sun setting on the old man in Boston as it rises on the Cuban sensation in Miami.

The game steamrolls into the future, pausing for no one, no matter how large the legend.

“It was awesome,” Bogaerts said of Ortiz’s night. “That’s the type of player he is.”

“Because we’re around him every day, it doesn’t surprise me that he [addressed the AL before the game],” Wright said. “He’s a class act.”

“We have a lot of new guys to the All-Star team, and it’s good to hear that kind of message from David,” said Carlos Beltran, 39.

It was thrilling and captivating. It was emotional and nostalgic. There was a lump in your throat as you sat on the edge of your seat, waiting to see what was going to happen next.

It’s baseball, yesterday and today. And especially tomorrow.


Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball.

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