David Ortiz is one of the most famous and recognizable athletes on Earth.
He was named the MVP of the 2013 World Series and won 13 other league awards during his illustrious 20 seasons in Baseball.
He is renowned for his charitable work, including with the Jimmy Fund and the David Ortiz Children Fund, an organization that has funded critical cardiac services for kids in the Dominican Republic with heart problems.
He was the man who after the Boston Marathon Bombings famously warned, “This is our f------ city.”
There’s a street in Boston named after him. Boston’s Logan Airport has done the same with one of its gates.
He is a true icon.
He is Big Papi.
And yet, according to Jean Alain Rodriguez, Attorney General of the Dominican Republic, Ortiz is also among the most unlikely victims ever of mistaken identity.
Rodriguez announced on Wednesday that questions about a motive for the Sunday, June 9th shooting of the 43-year-old retired slugger aren’t answerable because Ortiz wasn’t the intended target. Ortiz, who sat at a table in Santo Domingo’s Dial Discotheque with a friend, Sixto David Fernandez, was blasted at point blank range by a 25-year-old man named Rolfy Ferreyra Cruz.
Ferreyra Cruz—who walked right up from behind Ortiz, stopped, raised a handgun and, with both hands on the firearm, shot Ortiz—has pleaded with law enforcement that shooting Ortiz wasn’t his plan. Fernandez, Ferreyra Cruz insists, was instead the man he was paid to kill.
Law enforcement apparently believes Ferreyra Cruz. This is for several reasons. One is that both Ortiz and Fernandez were wearing white pants that evening, and thus visually could have seemed similar. Also, Ferreyra Cruz was told that Fernandez has a regular pattern of visiting the club on Sunday nights, but it seems Ferreyra Cruz was not expecting Ortiz. In addition, law enforcement has obtained information from 10 other individuals who have been arrested as part of the assassination conspiracy. Officers have probably obtained substantial physical and electronic evidence, as well as witness testimony, to support its conclusion about the target. In short, this retelling of what occurred on June 9 depicts Ferreyra Cruz as simply confused about who he was shooting.
The assertion that Ortiz wasn’t the intended target naturally invites skepticism. Ortiz is instantly recognizable, particularly in his home country where he is a beloved figure. He is also a very large man: he stands 6’3, has a listed weight of 230 pounds and is muscular. Even while seated, Ortiz is not someone likely to blend in with others. It’s unclear whether Fernandez might resemble Ortiz, particularly from the back, or whether his body type is similar to that of Ortiz. A photo published by El Siglothat shows Ortiz standing next to another man who is identified as Fernandez indicates that the two men look nothing alike. Regardless, Ortiz doesn’t seem like someone who would be mistaken.
There are other commonsensical reasons to question the conclusion that Ortiz was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. For starters, there are (uncorroborated) rumors of Ortiz being linked to a relationship with the wife of a drug lord and that the shooting was payback. Several media publications, including The Daily Mail and the New York Daily News, have explored those rumors.
Even if there isn’t an Ortiz-linked personal matter to explain the shooting, it would be wise for Ferreyra Cruz to have the public—as well as his current and future cellmates—believe that he wasn’t trying to shoot Ortiz. The same is true for everyone else arrested as a conspirator.
The conspirators saw what happened to Eddy Feliz Garcia, the 25-year-old man who was arrested at the night club. Garcia, an alleged accomplice of Ferreyra Cruz, tried to flee the scene but fell. He was then detained by a furious crowd, who badly beat him. Like the other conspirators, Ferreyra Cruz would be understandably worried about his safety and that of his family if he was judged to be the man who tried to kill David Ortiz.
Whether they were trying to kill Fernandez or Ortiz, the suspects face the same set of offenses related to plotting and carrying out an intended murder. It will be interesting to see how the prosecutions of the suspects proceed. Will all of those charged express that Fernandez, rather than Ortiz, was the target, or will there be a dispute over law enforcement’s narrative? Time will tell.
Rodriguez, the attorney general, also revealed on Wednesday that the person regarded as the architect of the shooting is Victor Hugo Gomez. He is connected to a drug cartel and The New York Timesreports he is a wanted criminal in the United States.
As I noted in a story on Monday, Ortiz will be expected to cooperate in the continued investigation and subsequent prosecutions. The naturalized U.S. citizen is currently being treated at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, the city where Ortiz now resides with his family. After successful surgeries to remove Ortiz’s gallbladder and parts of his intestines and colon, Ortiz’s condition has been upgraded as “good.” There is hope that he will make a full recovery.
Michael McCann is SI’s Legal Analyst. He is also an attorney and Director of the Sports and Entertainment Law Institute at the University of New Hampshire Franklin Pierce School of Law.