Heartfelt swan song for Mike Lowell

BOSTON -- The best days, Mike Lowell said, were when he was a child and his father, Carlos, would come home after working just half a day and the two would head together to the neighborhood baseball field, his father owning a key to unlock the gate.

Saturday afternoon in Fenway Park, Lowell avoided looking at the distinguished-looking man with the white hair sitting in a row of white folding chairs extending from third base, Lowell's neighborhood for the past five seasons.

"My dad, like, cries at a Kraft Cheese commercial,'' Lowell said. "I knew it would get me a little bit.''

But then 6-year-old Anthony Lowell, around the same age his own father had been those many years ago, watched the video tribute playing on the scoreboard and had a question.

"Dad,'' the little boy asked, "were you really the greatest baseball player in the whole world?''

"I wanted to look at him with a straight face and say, 'Yes I am,' but since I was miked up, I said, 'No, I'm just a baseball player,'" Mike Lowell said. "He said, 'But everybody's acting like you're the greatest in the whole world.'

"I said, 'Keep that thought.'"

The white block letters on the left-field wall, the one which Lowell hit so many balls off and over in five seasons with the Boston Red Sox, spelled out the prevailing sentiment of this day for a player who if not the greatest, was considered pretty special in the comparatively short time he was here.

"Thank You Mike," the letters read.

Lowell was retiring after 13 seasons in the big leagues that cost him a good right hip but bought him memories and friends as rich as any he could have imagined when, at the advice of his mother Beatrice, he would say three "Hail Marys" and utter his fondest wish: to grow up to be a big leaguer.

The Boston Children's Chorus sang "Ironman," the Black Sabbath tune that accompanied Lowell's at-bats. The Sox dugout was overflowing with players who normally grumble, as Lowell himself admitted, at pregame ceremonies.

"I even said to Paps, I can't believe you're out here -- I never see you before the fifth inning,'' Lowell said, recounting his exchange with closer Jonathan Papelbon.

The top railing of the visitors' dugout was also crowded with applauding Yankees, the team with which Lowell broke into pro ball. He probably wouldn't have made it through the minors, Lowell said, without the help of two Yankees coaches, Rob Thomson and Mick Kelleher.

The Sox owners were there -- John Henry with his wife, Linda (who recently gave birth to the couple's first child, a daughter, Sienna), Tom Werner and CEO Larry Lucchino. General manager Theo Epstein was missing, perhaps wearied by Lowell's pleas to trade or release him, but manager Terry Francona had a place in line. The club gave Lowell a $100,000 check to his foundation devoted to fighting cancer, and Francona presented him with a watch box.

"Open it, open it,'' Francona urged.

Empty, of course. (Lowell later got the watch.)

Mike Redmond, his best friend in the game and a former teammate on the Marlins, came in for the occasion with a gift of stone crabs from Florida. Another close friend and former teammate on the Sox, Alex Cora, also surprised him, while Josh Beckett, a friend and teammate on both the Marlins and Sox, pulled up third base and presented it to him.

The man in the clerical collar was another friend, Father Paul O'Brien, a Catholic priest who runs a facility in Lawrence that feeds the hungry, one visited and supported by both Mike and his wife, Bertha, who sat next to Mike's father and mother. Mike's 9-year-old daughter, Alexis, literally danced with joy in front of her chair, alongside her little brother.

When it was Lowell's turn to speak, he thanked the club, his coaches, friends and teammates, past and present. He acknowledged the support of the fans. Then, with a catch in his voice, he said:

"So I just want to thank God for allowing me the privilege and opportunity to wear this jersey, to play in this ballpark, to represent the city of Boston and to share so many memories with all of you.

"Thank you very much."

He didn't want, he would say later, to break down.

"I really wanted to tell the fans how much that meant to me, these five years, to have gotten a response that was much more, really, than what I think I deserved,'' he said.

Joe Castiglione, the Sox longtime radio voice, had mentioned to Lowell how many great Sox players never got a sendoff like this, having left for other teams before the end. Think about it: Fisk. Lynn. Evans. Boggs. Clemens. Mo. Nomar. Manny. Only the very few, like Yaz, had gotten this kind of treatment.

"I laughed at Joe,'' Lowell said. "Mike Lowell and Yaz? Are we serious? For him to compare it to that, I felt like [that] put me in a position where my numbers almost don't merit that response.

"But I enjoy it. I'm happy about it. It makes me feel great.''

Carlos Lowell, a former semi-pro pitcher of considerable renown in Puerto Rico, where he fled after Castro came to power in Cuba, threw the ceremonial first pitch, strong and true, to his son, who served as catcher. Alexis and Anthony accompanied their father to home plate with the lineup card to present to the umpires.

And when the game began, it was as if the ceremony never ended. Lowell doubled home two runs in the first, and the crowd roared. He walked and scored in the third. More cheers. And when in the fifth, he lined a ball high off the Wall, missing a home run by a foot or two, Francona sent out a pinch-runner, Lars Anderson. As Lowell walked off, his helmet waved in every direction, the ovation rocked the foundations of this ancient yard.

Those cheers would be the last Mike Lowell hears as a Sox player. He had told Francona before the game he hoped to end it all with a hit. He will not play in the season finale Sunday.

There will be another job in baseball one day. Perhaps as a special assistant to a team. A position in a broadcast booth.

He is content to wait.

"I'm happy,'' he said, "that I have nothing on my agenda.''

As Lowell was leaving the media interview room, someone asked him if third base was his to keep.

"I don't intend,'' he said, "to give it back.''

Gordon Edes is ESPNBoston.com's Red Sox reporter. He has covered the Red Sox for 12 years and has reported on baseball for 25 years. Ask a question for his next mailbag here.