BRIGHTON -- If anyone can appreciate the way David Ortiz is going out in his final season at age 40, it’s longtime Bruins captain Zdeno Chara. Big Zee will also turn 40 this season, is in his second-to-last contracted year, and, like Ortiz, still maintains a superior level of play despite Father Time not exactly standing by him anymore.
Chara remains the Bruins' de facto No. 1 defenseman, though his Norris Trophy finalist days are clearly behind him. Still, he posted good numbers last season -- 9 goals, 37 points, plus-12 in 80 games -- and, as he showed in leading Team Europe to the World Cup of Hockey finals, is still capable of summoning his dominant shutdown capabilities.
So it’s no surprise the 6-foot-9 defenseman has marveled from afar at Ortiz’s ability to keep producing MVP numbers in his final season with the Red Sox.
“It’s impressive," an admiring Chara told CSNNE.com. "He’s done so much for the sport, and for the team and for the city. He’s going to leave a huge footprint in Boston, and everybody is always going to remember him. It’s not just for all the home runs he put up, but it’s also about the message he was able to send out away from the baseball field."
Much the same could be said about Chara, who led the Bruins to a Stanley Cup championship in 2011, to the Cup finals in 2013, and who worked tirelessly to keep himself in superb shape.
“Speaking for myself, you have to have a passion and you have to love the game (to keep excelling into your 40s)," he said. "You have to enjoy the sacrifice and the pain. I’m sure there are many athletes that went through it, and David is one of those guys that kept himself in really good shape. You notice he works really hard in the offseason to keep in really good shape, perform and put up the numbers that he keeps posting. That’s a big credit [to Ortiz], because anybody that thinks it’s kind of easy to stay in the league, it’s quite hard.”
It seems from the outside that young Sox players like Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts have played a role in pushing Ortiz toward the .315 batting average and 38 home runs he posted in his farewell season. Chara readily admitted the young up-and-coming Bruins players do exactly the same for him.
“The development of players, no matter what sport, is so much better and so much faster, and so much on a higher level that now you see guys that are 17, 18 and 19 [years old] and they’re ready to play," he said. "That speed-up development is implemented in juniors or PeeWees, or whatever, and the technology is helping these young athletes get to that highest level that much faster. It's a great thing. It pushes older, or more experienced, players to keep up and be that much better.”
The attention and focus on talented young players in Major League Baseball and the NHL will obviously always be there, and the “young gun” Team North America in the World Cup of Hockey accentuated that point while taking the tournament by storm.
It’s not often in this day and age that players approaching 40 can keep up, so perhaps every Boston sports fan should take a moment of appreciation in the here and now.
Elder statesmen like Ortiz and Chara still operating at such a high frequency deep into the twilight of their brilliant careers don’t come along very often. And to have two of them, champions and Hall of Famers in their respective sports, is a gift.