Banner day is unfurled at Fenway

April 12, 2005|By LAURA VECSEY

BOSTON - What does it look like when 86 years of pain and suffering are over and an entire Nation pauses to celebrate?

It looks so good that Fenway fans were on their feet yesterday, 45 minutes before the first home-park pitch of 2005.

They were standing on chairs and tables, lined up along the aisles and catwalks all around the old ballpark.

They craned their necks and ducked under elbows to take a snapshot of history. They hugged and laughed in giddy anticipation. They wrapped their arms around their friends' and families' shoulders.

"Hey Billy, you want to climb on my shoulders, 'cause I know you don't want me on yours?" yelled an XXL Red Sox Nation faithful to his smaller buddy, behind a wall of red-clad humanity.

This you had to see.

The red banners unfurled down the side of the great Green Monster, bearing the dates that told in shorthand the long and terrible story of suffering.

1903.

1912.

1915.

1916.

1918.

The red banners flapped in the brisk, cold wind and the trumpets and timpani from Boston Symphony blared and thumped, sailing into the blue April sky, rising in crescendo and then - boom!

There fell the giant curtain on 86 years of pain.

2004 World Champions, it read.

It was real. It was official. It was a banner big enough to cover the famous Fenway wall, inscribed with words that mean Red Sox Nation will never have to feel inferior or cursed or second-best to anyone, especially those damn Yankees.

And just for poetic justice, harking back to the No, No Nanette and Babe Ruth and all those symbols of promising seasons gone terribly awry that followed, there were the Yankees.

They sat and kneeled in the visitors dugout, like good boys from Joe Torre's School of Model Citizenship, respectful as everyone from Tim Wakefield to Derek Lowe to Dave Roberts to Kevin Millar to Bill Mueller to Trot Nixon to Jason Varitek walked out to thunderous applause.

"It's a distraction, but it's a necessary distraction," Torre said about the ring ceremony that his Bombers were imported to town to watch.

Ha ha! Don't tell us baseball doesn't have a sense of humor.

"It's a moment to celebrate," Torre said, noting, too, that often ring ceremonies do not have to take place on home openers.

But this was as it should have been, even if the day's event was far more about what the Red Sox accomplished than what the Yankees did not.

So everyone celebrated, all together now, like one big, happy family in this AL East rivalry that means neither the Red Sox nor Yankees are entirely free to do as they please, not with the other team there to keep them honest or, at least, spending millions on free agents trying.

Red Sox Nation is now such the equal of the Evil Empire that Johnny Damon and Johnny Pesky - the gentle soul and gracious twins of the Red Sox past and present - tipped their caps to Torre, Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada and maybe even to that third baseman, what's his name, who was almost a Red Sox but instead picked the wrong team to win a ring with.

"I've been waiting 60 years for this baby. That's the highest thing you can get in this game. You get a ring, you just look at it. I say my prayers every night and thank God," said Pesky, whose 64 years as a Red Sox made him the greatest symbol of long suffering sweetly, finally rewarded.

Damon said it was natural reaction to acknowledge the Yankees.

"I think the world of that franchise. They're the absolute top. They've won 26 world championships. That's what everyone admires," Damon said.

"For them [to watch from the dugout] and respect everything we did, that says a lot. We respect them, and it's going to continue to be a great rivalry. That's why baseball will continue to excel. That's why the people around here are very joyous."

Indeed, Red Sox Nation is released from its past. Everyone is cleansed and relieved, except maybe for Bill Buckner, the first baseman who should have never been playing first base in those late innings of 1986, but still he was a symbol.

"It wasn't his fault, but he is a symbol, but today was all about symbols and the symbols got reversed. He should have come. Everyone would have welcomed him. It would have been nice," said Gary Smith of Wellesley.

Buckner declined the invitation to join in yesterday, but he'll come back one day, maybe soon, and be brought back to the fold. He was a notable exception, along with Carlton Fisk and Pedro Martinez.

Still, the huddle of old Sox in center field yesterday was impressive: Dom DiMaggio, Bobby Doerr, Rico Petrocelli, Luis Tiant, Jerry Moses, Joe Morgan, Butch Hobson, Rich Gedman, Oil Can Boyd, Dennis Eckersley, Jim Rice, Fred Lynn, Dwight Evans and Carl Yastrzemski, who hoisted the pennant up the flag pole with Varitek.

All hands on deck for this, fellas.

To witness a World Series ring ceremony in this town on this day meant nothing except that life will never be the same again.

The diamonds and rubies on the rings make it so.

The appearance of Bill Russell and Bobby Orr at Fenway makes it so.

The sharing of championship status with the NFL champion Patriots makes it so.

And so does that final, unfurled banner: 2004 World Champions.

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