SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (CBS/AP) — David Ortiz was flown to Boston for more medical care Monday after the former Red Sox slugger affectionately known as Big Papi was ambushed by a gunman at a bar in his native Dominican Republic, authorities said.
The 43-year-old retired athlete had been 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.
Red Sox President Sam Kennedy says although Ortiz’s condition is serious, he was stable enough to fly. The Red Sox arranged for the air ambulance to take Ortiz to Boston to receive treatment at Mass General Hospital. Kennedy said the shooting “shocked us to our core.”
Ortiz’s ambulance arrived at MGH late Monday night escorted by Boston Police and State Police.
Ortiz was at the Dial Bar and Lounge in Santo Domingo around 8:50 p.m. Sunday when a gunman approached from behind and shot him at close range, said National Police Director Ney Aldrin Bautista Almonte.
Surveillance video showed Ortiz sitting outside the bar when a man got off a motorcycle, walked up behind Ortiz and shot him in the back at nearly point-blank range. The bullet went through Ortiz’s lower back and came out his stomach.
Red Sox Manager Alex Cora, who was Ortiz’s teammate for four seasons, was visibly shaken when he addressed the media Monday. “One thing about David, he’s strong, he has no fear, he never shows weaknesses, so because of that reason the Lord will be with him,” Cora said.
Eliezel Salvador was sitting near Ortiz when the shooting happened and rushed him to the hospital in his own car.
“I was driving fast. He said ‘I’m having trouble breathing’ and I said that’s normal,” Eliezel Salvador said in an interview with WBZ-TV. “I said keep breathing and don’t talk too much, give me your hand. I gave him my hand. I drove with one hand. We hit a few cars on the way but we got there.”
Dionisio Soldevila, a reporter from the Dominican, told ESPN that Ortiz pleaded with his doctors, “Please don’t let me die. I’m a good man.”
Dozens of fans crowded the hospital in Santo Domingo where Ortiz was being treated, causing a traffic jam Monday.
Ortiz’s father, Leo, told reporters 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.” In a statement, the Red Sox said they offered the Ortiz family “all available resources to aid in his recovery” and they will continue to keep them in their hearts.
One suspect was captured and beaten by a crowd of people at the bar, and police were waiting for him to undergo treatment for his injuries before questioning him, authorities said. Police told CBS News the man in custody is 23-year-old Eddy Feliz Garcia and that they’re looking for a second suspect.
Investigators are trying to determine whether Ortiz was the intended target, Bautista said.
National police spokesperson Frank Felix Duran told CBS News Ortiz or urban singer Secreto, who was with him, may have been the target. “We’re not ruling out any scenario. What we can rule out is that this wasn’t a robbery,” he said, adding that the gunman fired without saying a word.
Two other people were wounded in the shooting, Bautista said, including Jhoel López, a Dominican TV host who was with Ortiz. Bautista said police believe López was wounded by the same bullet. 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 Dial Bar and Lounge is located in eastern Santo Domingo on Venezuela Avenue, a bustling nightlife district packed with dance clubs and pricey bars that Ortiz is known to frequent. Ortiz, who 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.
Ortiz hit 541 homers in 20 major league seasons, including 14 with the Red Sox. He helped lead Boston to three World Series titles and retired after the 2016 season. He was a 10-time All-Star and World Series MVP in 2013.
Red Sox President Sam Kennedy said Ortiz is probably the most beloved and important players in team history. “The face of multiple World Series championships, active in the community. You’d be hard pressed to find someone more beloved than David,” Kennedy said. “We all remember in 2013 when we needed David Ortiz the most, he was there for us in late April. So it’s appropriate and expected that this community would rally around David when he needs us the most.”
Red Sox Assistant General Manager Eddie Romero said he is awed by the impact Ortiz has had on the Dominican Republic over his career. “He’s obviously an icon, on the Mount Rushmore of Boston athletes, but he is the guy in the Dominican Republic, he’s more famous than any president,” Romero said Monday.
Former President Barack Obama was among many people sending well-wishes to Ortiz Monday.
“It’s sad. Obviously everyone loves Big Papi,” Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said Monday. “I think a lot of people feel like a family member was injured last night with that shooting because everyone loves Big Papi.”
(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. Martín Jose Adames Alcántara of the Associated Press contributed to this report.)