His journey through Boston didn’t need to be a long one. Mike Napoli had left his mark on the city. The slugger announced his retirement this past weekend, and for many fans of the 2013 championship team, it called for a chance to reminisce. He only spent a little over two seasons with the team, but he was a very impactful, lovable character. He’ll mainly be remembered for his bushy beard and clutch heroics throughout the 2013 season. But most importantly, for helping bring a championship to a city that truly needed it, after their darkest time.
How The Era Of Napoli Came To Be
I recall being on vacation down in Florida in December of 2012. I heard about a multitude of signings the team was in the process of making. They needed some veteran presence alongside David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia, so they made three moves. All three of those moves occurred within three days, and all helped shaped the 2013 season.
Shane Victorino and Koji Uehara both signed. They were probably the two most important players throughout the 2013 ALCS. The third signing of the week was Mike Napoli. After some issues passing his physical, he eventually made his way to the Red Sox on a one year deal. All three of these guys had been solid, but the team faced backlash, as all three were seen as ‘past their prime’.
I lauded the move at the time, how can you not want these likable, locker room presence-type guys? Of course, it paid off. Napoli transitioned to first base smoothly for Boston, and ended up having some huge hits down the stretch, and into October.
Why He Was So Important
In April of 2013, the country was sent into a state of shock. Terrorists had carried out an attack this close to home, right at the Boston Marathon. For as many people this sent into a frenzy and a state of panic, it ended up bringing together a city. Nobody will ever forget Big Papi’s speech before the first home game following the attacks:
It became a theme of the season. The Boston Strong jersey hung in the dugout during every game. The players were often discussing with the media and with each other how much they wanted this for the city and for the fans. It all just felt like it was meant to be, and Mike Napoli was central to all of this.
When I think of this team, I remember how great the entire ‘beard’ thing was. I remember Jonny Gomes showing up with a huge beard at Spring Training, and Napoli just loved it. Eventually the whole team had beards. The team had named them and marketed it. That ended up being another huge theme of the season.
Napoli and his bearded brothers brought a sense of passion everyday, to get it done for this city. However, they always did it while having fun. Even when the team struggled, or fell behind against Detroit in the playoffs, this crew was there to pick each other up. Just like they picked this city up, when the people needed it most.
Putting Nap’s Red Sox Career in Perspective
The clear cut, go-to Napoli Red Sox moment, is his seventh inning home run against Justin Verlander in game 3 of the ALCS. It broke the tie and ended up being the only run in a 1-0 final. It ended up being a key factor in Boston’s grasp of the momentum in the series.
The stats aren’t flashy over the two and half seasons in Boston, and the way it ended in 2015 is unfortunate. The Sox were going nowhere, and unfortunately Napoli had begun to really fall off. So they shipped him back to Texas.
He’ll never be forgotten for helping bring this city a title when they needed it. Nobody will ever forget seeing his big beard laughing it up at first base. Nobody had more fun than Nap, and nobody partied harder when the Sox won. Most of all, nobody will ever forget this. Possibly the greatest photo in the history of Boston Sports, shirtless Napoli patrolling Boston days after winning the World Series:
Thank you for everything Nap, it was a fun ride.