Red Sox fans cheer Mariano Rivera at the 2004
pennant raising ceremony

ON THIS DATE (April 11, 2005) ... They paid hundreds in some cases, thousands of dollars to be there. Some fans at Fenway Park paid as much as $100 to park and all sat in 46-degree temperatures, enduring winds that chilled to the marrow.

None of that mattered. The citizens of Red Sox Nation had waited too long to worry about cost, climate, or any inconvenience. This was the day the Sox raised the World Series flag and dropped the curtain on Boston Baseball’s Bacchanalia a six-month festival triggered by the greatest comeback in sports history and the Hub’s first hardball championship since 1918.

The Sox beat the Yankees, 8-1, in the 94th Fenway Park opener today. Tim Wakefield, Boston’s clubhouse leader in continuous service, pitched seven strong innings and battery mate Doug Mirabelli cranked a two-run homer in a thrashing of the Pinstripes that thrilled the blue-man (and blue-woman) group in the ancient stands. As if to enhance the fans’ experience, Yankees villain Alex Rodriguez committed an error that led to three unearned runs.

But it was the pregame festivities that connected generations of New Englanders, moved grown men to tears (I saw one in the press box), and created a memory guaranteed to be shared whenever two or more Sox fans gather to reminisce about the glory days of 2004.

In a 45-minute ceremony lengthy, but not nearly long enough to offset the 86 years and one million-96 tears that advanced the hard-earned world series win, the sox paid tribute to Fenway favorites past and present, handed out the rings, and raised the championship banner in center field for the first time since 1919. Derek Lowe and Dave Roberts, heroes from 2004 who have moved to new teams, received two of the loudest ovations. Pedro Martinez, another who has moved on, did not come back for the game, as the Mets had their home opener.

 

MARIANO RIVERA

Mariano Rivera, the Yankees’ future Hall of Fame closer, was cheered madly by the Boston fans, a backhanded compliment in the wake of his recent struggles against the Red Sox. Rivera smiled broadly and waved to the hooting masses. It was another classic vignette on this cold, perfect day.

Carl Yastrzemski, the greatest living Sox player, and Johnny Pesky, a veteran of 64 years with the franchise, had the privilege of pulling the cords to run the flag up the pole. They were joined in the outfield by last year’s champions and another 25 men who toiled in Red Sox flannels but never won the ultimate game. No matter what age you are, there was a former Boston player to remind you of an earlier time when the Sox entertained, but couldn’t win a championship. Dom DiMaggio, Bobby Doerr (the 87-year-old Hall of Famer flew overnight to make the ceremony), Frank Malzone, Jim Lonborg, Jim Rice, and Oil Can Boyd touched different generations of fans in different ways. Collectively, they encapsulated 70 years of living Red Sox history.

Just when it seemed it couldn’t get any thicker with subplots, Bill Russell, Bobby Orr, Tedy Bruschi, and Richard Seymour emerged from the cornfield (ie, Green Monster) to throw ceremonial first pitches. Bruschi, Boston’s Super Bowl hero who suffered a stroke in February, made his first-ball toss to Terry Francona, the Sox manager who missed the last five days because of chest pains. Russell tossed to Curt Schilling.

After the pomp and bling, the rivals played a baseball game, and the Sox buffeted the Bronx Bombers, taking a 7-1 lead in the fourth and coasting through the final frozen frames. There were smiles all around when the 33,702 filed out of the yard just after 6 p.m.