BOSTON -- The ballpark itself, Fenway Park, was the focal point of the celebration Friday. It turned 100 years old on the day, April 20, 2012.
But the former Red Sox players and uniformed personnel, who were a major part of the emotional pregame ceremonies, sporting jerseys of their respective eras with their names on the back as they walked, one by one, onto the field, conjuring up memories for the 37,967 standing and applauding fans, were honored as much as the ballpark.
Fenway Park on a sun-splashed, warm April day. Ovations from the crowd. Old teammates. Red Sox brethren. Back at their normal positions.
Could it have been any better for the players and managers?
The answer was “no” from a sampling of players, who heaped great praise on the Red Sox organization not only for making the return for 210 players possible, but for the entire day of festivities, which included music from the Boston Pops, a military flyover, a special opening-pitch ceremony and the honor for 92-year-old Johnny Pesky and his double-play partner, 94-year-old Bobby Doerr to making the traditional “play ball” call along with Hall of Famers Jim Rice and Carlton Fisk.
“It was like a class reunion and family reunion,” said former left-hander Bruce Hurst, who won 88 games with the Sox from 1980-88 before signing with the Padres as a free agent.
“I got to see guys I hadn’t seen in 30 years. We caught up, reminisced. It was emotional for a lot of us. Walking on the field, the reception, the memories. The ovations for Johnny Pesky and Bobby Doerr and Yaz. It was cool. It was special and great to be a part of it. Whoever came up with it, the logistics, the planning, my hat’s off to them. It was a huge success. I’m probably not going to be here for the 200th, so standing on that mound, this was incredible fun. Better than I anticipated.”
John Tudor, another former left-hander, agreed, as did infielder Dave Stapleton, pitcher Al Nipper and catcher Dave Schmidt, all of whom played in Pawtucket and Boston in the same era as Hurst.
“They couldn’t have mail-ordered it any better,” Tudor said. “It was fun, getting to see everybody.”
“It was like heaven,” Stapleton added. “You go out there on that field and you see visions of your past. You see all the guys again. It couldn’t have been any better. It was real special for the organization to do something like this for us. It’s mind-boggling.”
“You get goosebumps it was such a wonderful thing,” said Nipper, who not only pitched for the Sox but also served as the team’s pitching coach in 2006. Nipper now is the Detroit Tigers’ pitching coordinator.
“This was always a first-class organization and the new owners have continued that legacy. I appreciate being included,” said Schmidt, who had a cup-of-coffee career that was curtailed because of injuries.
Joe Morgan, who racked up a record of 301-262 in his managerial tenure with the Red Sox from 1988-1991, was one of two former managers involved in the ceremony. Terry Francona was the other.
“That was nice,” Morgan said of the stroll across the lush green Fenway grass. “Who would have thought when I was born in Walpole that I would be manager here?”
“My father used to take me here to Fenway when I was 7 years old,” chimed in Morgan's wife, Dottie. “And I ended up marrying the manager of the Boston Red Sox.”
The day offered players of all generations to connect or reconnect. And it also afforded the current players an opportunity to put faces to names in the Red Sox legacy.
“To see everybody come back was pretty special,” second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. “It was cool. They did an unbelievable job. It was awesome.”
As Hurst stood on the mound with all of the other pitchers, current ace left-hander Jon Lester sought him out, much to Hurst’s pleasure.
“Lester came up and said hello. It was very nice of him to do that," Hurst said. "He’s a special guy. He is the best Red Sox left-hander ever. He has a chance to put himself above everybody. I follow him. I tell young players that this guy is not only someone to watch, but someone to emulate. I have a lot of respect for him not only as a player but as a person.”
Of course, not everyone who was invited was able to make it for whatever reasons. Hall of Famer Wade Boggs (charity golf tournament) wasn't able to attend. Neither were Marty Barrett (family vacation in Mexico) or Trot Nixon (son’s first Little League game).
Another notable absentee was Roger Clemens. Hurst said he sent Clemens a text to try to get The Rocket to attend, but Hurst said Clemens had legitimate reasons for being unable to do so. Clemens is on trial for perjury in his steroids case.
Hurst, though, said he thought Clemens would have gotten a loud ovation had he been able to show up. A well-deserved ovation, he said.
“He had a profound impact on the organization,” Hurst said. “When he struck out 20 batters [on April 29, 1986] he gave us all credibility. That game changed it for all of us, the team, the perception of us in the league.”
But it was who was at Fenway, and the park itself, that made it a special day, said Hurst.
“We walked in a little jelly-legged, nervous on that first step. What Fenway means to the city, franchise and baseball as a whole. It’s the heartbeat of baseball. It was awesome. There’s a great legacy here, a heritage, and to be part of that is special, it really is,” he said.
“You don’t realize it when you’re playing. But when you get out of the game and think back on it, you appreciate what this place means and what it means to play here. There’s criticism that it isn’t state of the art, but Mr. (John) Henry, Mr. (Tom) Werner and Mr. (Larry) Lucchino have made it better. It’s at a state that as good as it needs to be. There will never be another Fenway. It’s real special.”