SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic – Beloved in his hometown, David Ortíz traveled the dangerous streets of Santo Domingo with little or no security, trusting in his fans to protect him.
Big Papi's guard was down even at hot spots like the Dial Bar and Lounge, where the Dominican business and entertainment elite can cross paths with shadier figures in a country where fortunes are often made in drug smuggling and money laundering.
As the former Red Sox slugger lies in intensive care in Boston, recovering from the bullet fired into his back at the Dial on Sunday night, police are investigating what aspect of the national hero's life made him the target of what appeared to be an assassination attempt.
Ortíz was so relaxed at the open-air hot spot Sunday that he had his back to the sidewalk as a gunman – a passenger on a motorcycle – got off the bike just before 9 p.m., approached the 43-year-old retired athlete and fired a single shot at close range before escaping.
Enraged fans captured the motorcyclist and beat him bloody before handing him over to police, but the gunman was still at large Tuesday.
Doctors in Santo Domingo removed Ortiz's gallbladder and part of his intestines, and he was then flown to Boston for further treatment Monday night, undergoing two hours of exploratory surgery.
Ortíz's wife, Tiffany, said in a statement that he was “stable, awake and resting comfortably” at Massachusetts General Hospital and was expected to remain there for several days.
The motorcyclist, Eddy Vladimir Féliz Garcia, who had a 2017 arrest for drug possession, was one of several people in custody as of Tuesday afternoon, a law enforcement official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to release details of the investigation.
Ortíz has a six-bedroom, $6 million home in the wealthy Boston suburb of Weston, Massachusetts, that he shared with his wife and three children but has put the place up for sale. He visits his father and sister in Santo Domingo about six times a year, according to a close friend who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.
Ortíz stayed at his father's apartment and was active on the social scene in the capital.
Ortíz couldn't avoid running across unsavory characters on the Santo Domingo social scene but kept his distance once he was warned about their shady backgrounds, the friend said.
“He may have spoken with them, but he didn't know who they were,” the friend said. “He really kept away from that world.”
Police are investigating, however, whether some brief relationship formed in Santo Domingo set in motion a chain of events that led to the shooting, a second law enforcement official told the AP.
Ortíz felt completely secure in his hometown, the friend said, with adoring fans greeting him wherever he went.
“He felt protected by the people,” the friend said. “He is one of the most loved people in the Dominican Republic. He felt no fear despite the fact that there's street crime here. Even the guys in the dangerous neighborhoods respected him.”