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Red Sox fans remain loyal to Big Papi

As Ortiz denies steroid use, they say let’s move on

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By Nandini Jayakrishna
Globe Correspondent / August 9, 2009

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Amid clinking glasses and noisy pregame banter, baseball fans at Cask’n Flagon, a landmark Fenway bar, could barely hear David Ortiz on television yesterday as he denied allegations that he used steroids.

But as they sipped their beers and watched the somber Red Sox slugger acknowledge being “a little bit careless’’ in buying over-the-counter vitamins and supplements, many did not need to hear the details to remain loyal to their hero - whether or not they believed him.

“He should just ’fess up. Everybody loves him around here,’’ said Robert S. Barrett, 26, of Portland, Maine, as he waited for the screens to begin televising Ortiz’s press conference in New York. “Papi’s the man.’’

“He’s been an icon,’’ said Stephen Mahan, 33, of Daytona Beach, Fla., another supporter. “I don’t think it’s that big of a deal.’’

The scandal came to light late last month when The New York Times released a report saying that Ortiz was one of about 100 Major League Baseball players who had tested positive for performance-enhancing substances in 2003.

Fans said they simply accept the fact that many athletes use drugs to give them an edge over competitors. Only some are unfortunate enough to get caught, they said.

“They were all doing [steroids],’’ said Brendan McDonough, 25, of Plymouth, a diehard fan who was wearing an Ortiz T-shirt. “Hitters were doing it. Pitchers were doing it. I always just knew he was doing it with Manny Ramírez.’’

But at Boston Beer Works across the street, Ryan Healey of East Hartford, who carefully watched the press conference on a TV screen, said he chose to believe the player’s denial was sincere.

“I’m the naive guy that believes that some of our heroes in the game are still pure,’’ Healey said. “I think he was wrong to take the supplements, but I’m not going to hold it against him.’’

Healey also praised Ortiz’s courage to speak openly and directly to the country. “I’m relieved it’s not steroids,’’ he said. “He came out and he talked to us. I’m happy. I can move on.’’

Ortiz, wearing a red-checked shirt and black jacket, addressed his fans during the press conference saying, “This past week has been a nightmare to me, because I’m the kind of guy that - I think about the fans everyday.’’

And many of those faithful fans at Fenway Park yesterday had defenses ready on his behalf, with some objecting to the involvement of a federal agency in releasing confidential drug test results.

“The way [the report] came out, it was wrong,’’ Lorie Spencer, 50, of Boston, said as she sat near the window at the Cask’n Flagon. “They were supposed to be anonymously tested. To jeopardize someone’s career and reputation is not right.’’

Some said they were frustrated that the complete list of players accused of illegal drug use has not been released.

“It’s distracting the players,’’ Debra Bowes, 42, of Burlington said as she sipped a beer at the Cask’n Flagon. “Just bring it out. Boom. And it’s over.’’

Most fans yesterday said they did not believe Ortiz or his team should be punished severely for what was the use of readily available supplements six years ago.

“It was 2003 . . . Who cares?’’ said Bowes.

Scott Rannikko of Plainfield, who stood near a TV watching the press conference at Boston Beer Works, said, “If they’re there and you can purchase them, why can’t you take them?’’

Mahan said Ortiz should be suspended temporarily, but the team’s win in the 2004 World Series - the reversal of the famous Curse of the Bambino following Babe Ruth’s departure to the New York Yankees roughly 85 years before that - should continue to stand.

One Red Sox fan at Fenway yesterday said for her, the perpetual controversy surrounding high-profile players such as Ortiz is part of the charm of the sporting world.

“It’s all entertainment,’’ said Ginger Sullivan , 33, of Abington, who was at Cask’n Flagon with her twin sister before the game.

Whether they find him to be honest and whether they find steroid-use fair, most fans gathering to watch the game yesterday said they would not look at Ortiz differently or stop rooting for him.

“The game will go on,’’ Rannikko said.

Jayakrishna can be reached at njayakrishna@globe.com.

Correction: Because of a reporting error, a story in Sunday’s A section on fan reaction to David Ortiz’s news conference incorrectly reported that a federal agency was involved in releasing the results of steroid testing on the Red Sox slugger. The source of the leaks is not known.

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