By Martin Jose Adams Alcantara and Michael Weissenstein
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (AP) — A U.S. medical team arrived in the Dominican Republic on Monday to airlift David Ortiz to Boston after the former Red Sox slugger affectionately known as Big Papi was ambushed by a gunman at a bar in his native country, authorities said.
The 43-year-old retired athlete was in stable condition in intensive care at a Santo Domingo hospital after doctors removed his gallbladder and part of his intestine, according to his spokesman, Leo López. He said Ortiz’s liver was also damaged in the shooting Sunday night.
Ortiz is one of the most beloved figures in sports history in the Dominican Republic and Boston, a fearsome power hitter with a ready smile. He led the Red Sox to three World Series championships, was a 10-time All-Star and hit 541 home runs.
Dozens of fans crowded the hospital, causing a traffic jam. In the U.S., fans prayed for his recovery and wished him well, with New England Patriots star Julian Edelman assuring him on Instagram: “Papi, all of New England has your back.”
The Red Sox offered “all available resources” and sent an aircraft to bring him back to Boston.
“He’s on the Mount Rushmore of Boston sports,” said Eddie Romero, the team’s assistant general manager.
A specially equipped plane was expected to take Ortiz to the U.S. late Monday, said Luis José López Mena, a spokesman for Las Américas airport.
Ortiz was at the Dial Bar and Lounge in Santo Domingo on Sunday night when a gunman approached from behind and shot him at close range in the torso, authorities said.
The gunman was not immediately identified or arrested, and the motive for the shooting was under investigation, with authorities trying to determine whether Ortiz was the target.
The operator of the motorcycle that was carrying the gunman was captured and beaten by a crowd of people at the bar, authorities said.
Eliezer Salvador, who was at the scene, said the gunman said nothing, just fired once. Salvador then drove a wounded Ortiz to the hospital, telling reporters they had a brief conversation in the car as he urged the baseball great to stay calm and breathe.
“Do you have any problems with anyone?” Salvador recalled asking him, to which Ortiz replied: “No, my brother, I’ve never wronged anyone.”
Salvador held up Ortiz’s bloody belongings for reporters, along with some of his jewelry. He also apologized for hitting several cars while rushing to the hospital: “That wrongdoing was justified.”
Ortiz’s father, Leo, said he had no idea why someone would have shot at his son.
“He is resting,” the elder Ortiz said. “Big Papi will be around for a long time.”
He added that he is pleased with the medical attention Ortiz has received but that he will be transferred to Boston so he can be with his wife and the Red Sox medical team.
Two other people were wounded, including Jhoel López, a Dominican TV host who was with Ortiz. Police believe López was wounded by the same bullet, said National Police Director Ney Aldrin Bautista Almonte. López was shot in the leg, and his injuries were not life-threatening, said his wife, Liza Blanco, who is also a TV host.
Police did not identify the third person or detail that person’s injuries.
The bar is in a bustling nightlife district packed with dance clubs and expensive bars that Ortiz is known to frequent.
Ortiz, who retired after the 2016 season and lives at least part of the year in the Dominican Republic, is often seen getting his cars washed and hanging out with friends, including other baseball players, artists and entertainers.
The Red Sox retired his number, 34, in 2017, and Boston renamed a bridge and a stretch of road outside Fenway Park in his honor. He maintains a home in Weston, on the outskirts of Boston.
Ortiz galvanized the city in the aftermath of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing that left three people dead, bellowing through a megaphone at Fenway Park: “This is our (expletive) city!”
“In 2013, when we needed David Ortiz the most, he was there for us,” Red Sox president and CEO Sam Kennedy said Monday. “Our focus is on his health and on getting him back here for treatment.”