History demanded every bit of this, just as every dues-paying citizen of Red Sox Nation did. On the day when the Boston franchise celebrated the end of an 86-year wait between World Series triumphs, the occasion required the appropriate conclusion to the festivities -- a home opener victory over the New York Yankees.
It was a full Monday afternoon and early evening at Fenway Park, one day packed with a lifetime's wait for reasons to rejoice. Jubilant, yet poignant, ceremonies celebrated the 2004 champion Red Sox. And then the 2005 Red Sox did their bit, kicking the Yankees around the yard, 8-1.
There was, in the ceremonies, a gathering of Red Sox from the past -- the past being everything from Johnny Pesky and Dennis Eckersley -- to Derek Lowe and Dave Roberts.
There was James Taylor singing. There was Terry Cashman singing. There was Bobby Orr throwing a first pitch. You can't get much bigger than that, unless you have Bill Russell throwing a first pitch, which also happened. There were back-to-back moments of silence for Pope John Paul II and Dick Radatz, two men not often mentioned in the same paragraph. There was something for everyone, as long as everyone was a Red Sox fan. But it is finally their turn, is it not?
"I found the pregame ceremony really emotional," said Commissioner Bud Selig. "I couldn't help but think what Yaz, Johnny Pesky, Dominic (DiMaggio), all those guys must have been thinking. The ceremonies were wonderful, it was beautifully done.
"You think back to all the history, and you see them out there, and it was just, to me, a very riveting moment."
It also should be said that the usual villains of the piece, the Yankees, did the right thing while all this Red Sox glee was filling the crisp New England air. The Yanks could have easily hid out in the clubhouse, away from the constant reminders of their shortcomings of last October. Instead, they politely stood in the dugout and politely observed.
"I give the Yankees a lot of credit," Selig said. "That was very classy, and I'm not the least bit surprised. I've known Joe Torre for a long time and you can always count on him to do the right thing."
The right thing was also done, and with a smile, by Mariano Rivera. As the Yankees were individually introduced before the game, each player was ritually booed, the level of the booing occurring in direct correlation to the importance of the player -- unless the player was Alex Rodriguez, for whom they'd obviously been waiting all winter. The pattern held until Rivera was announced, when the Fenway throng gave him a standing ovation -- a sort of loud, public thank you for Rivera having problems against one of 29 teams, the one team being the Red Sox.
It was about as funny as the introduction of opposing players can get. Rivera, to his everlasting credit, returned the generosity -- as unwanted as it might have been -- by smiling broadly and doffing his cap.
The rest of the day served mostly to underscore how important the Red Sox have always been, and thus, how important the 2004 postseason finally was. You were struck by the central importance of the Red Sox in the return to work of manager Terry Francona. He had missed four games after suffering from chest pains, which, given a family history of heart disease, was an especially frightening development.
|"I couldn't help but think what Yaz, Johnny Pesky, Dominic (DiMaggio), all those guys must have been thinking. The ceremonies were wonderful, it was beautifully done."|
|-- Bud Selig|
Francona's problem turned out to be a viral illness. But in a lot of cases, somebody comes through a scare like this and returns saying that everything in perspective ... baseball is less important, health and a more stress-free environment is all that matters. But in this case, Francona returned saying more nearly the opposite. What he discovered was that he really missed managing the Red Sox, really felt that he had not lived up to his obligation, even for a few days.
"It's not like I had a revelation," Francona said Monday morning. "I don't think I've got everything in perspective. We're 2-4 and I'm miserable.
"It's not like I'm going to care any less about baseball. I don't think I'm going to care any less about what I'm doing here. I don't want to cut back on how much I care about the Red Sox. What I do for a living is much more than a job."
Now, the Red Sox are 3-4 and nothing like miserable. They won Monday primarily because, for seven innings, Tim Wakefield did not give the powerful New York lineup anything more than one unearned run.
And Wakefield being in this role was, of course, also as fitting as possible. Wakefield, with the Red Sox since 1995, has the longest tenure with Boston than anybody on the current roster. He said that the honor of starting this home opener in these circumstances, "touched me very deeply." He pitched as though that was the case. The Red Sox always need a victory against the Yankees, but this day absolutely needed this kind of performance from Wakefield and his friends.
"There were a lot of us who were glad the rotation worked out this way," Francona said of Wakefield getting this start. "You don't set up your rotation from the heart, but when it works out that way it's a pretty nice thing."
Wakefield said that his teammates did a commendable job of getting beyond the emotions of the celebrations and getting on to the business at hand, beating the Yankees. And, he said, "As special as it was to be able to celebrate 2004, now we can get back to business and get on with 2005."
Of course that is a necessary outlook. But the thing is, the Boston Red Sox do have 2004 to celebrate; at last, finally, and forever.
They played just one game at Fenway Park on Monday, but it was as though the Red Sox won an everlasting doubleheader; having memories worth celebrating, then staging the victorious encore that those triumphant recollections required.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.