Fenway stars on celebratory stage

BOSTON -- So what if the Red Sox really opened their season four days ago in Baltimore? You haven't commenced the defense of your World Series championship until you have been properly feted by the home team's public relations machine, resplendent with homespun (Boston Pops) bells and (Dropkick Murphys) whistles.

Nobody puts on an extravaganza quite like Dr. Charles Steinberg and his innovative Yawkey Way staff. His baseball team certainly provided him with plenty of worthy material, spinning a worst-to-first yarn last season culminated by the team's World Series triumph over the St. Louis Cardinals in John Farrell's first season as manager.

In doing so, they completely obliterated some of the most toxic, negative and angry rhetoric that had permeated Fenway Park in decades.

Championships have a way of making us forget. If you don't believe me, just ask redemptive favorite son John Lackey, who received a hearty greeting Friday afternoon from the Fenway Faithful, a far cry from the derisive boos that awaited him on Opening Day 2013.

So much has transpired in one year, and most of it had nothing to do with baseball. We are fast approaching the anniversary of the marathon bombings, a day that shattered the innocence of our city and threatened to taint one of our most treasured and honored events.

The Red Sox were deeply affected by the marathon victims and etched a Boston Strong "B" into center field last season, both as a lasting tribute to the first responders who restored our faith on that horrific day and as a memorial for those killed and wounded.

Friday, some of those victims and their families returned with renewed hope and, in some cases, new prosthetic legs. The family of Krystle Campbell, who was killed in the blast, emerged from center field along with little Jane Richard, whose 8-year-old brother Martin was the bombing's youngest victim. Jane lost her leg in the bombings and her mother suffered significant head injuries. As Jane ambled over to the Red Sox dugout, "It was so quiet you could hear a pin drop," reported Red Sox catcher David Ross.

"That little girl had just the biggest smile on her face," said Ross. "It was hard not to get emotional about it. Those marathon victims have never been far from our thoughts."

The players paid their respects to the relatives of Sean Collier, the MIT officer who was allegedly ambushed by marathon suspects Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. They hugged Richard Donahue, MBTA transit officer wounded in a shootout with the brothers.

The Red Sox also incorporated a moving tribute to Lt. Edward J. Walsh and firefighter Michael R. Kennedy, who lost their lives last week fighting a blaze on Beacon Street, a stone's throw from this city's beloved ballpark. Firefighters from Engine 33 and Ladder 15 solemnly helped lower the American flag and the newly minted 2013 World Series flag to half-staff in their memory.

"It was an amazing ceremony," said newcomer Grady Sizemore. "I was happy to be here and respect what this team accomplished last year."

In the midst of it all, the Red Sox received their championship rings, a cluster of glitz and gold that signifies the ultimate in team sports: the right to declare themselves No. 1.

Ortiz received two baubles for his otherworldly postseason performance: the uniform championship ring worn by his peers, as well as an 14-karat white gold MVP ring dotted with nine rubies depicting the Sox logo and Ortiz's number 34.

Big Papi took those rings and added them to a chain around his neck that already included his spoils from the 2004 and 2007 World Series.

When it finally came time to think about baseball, the final pageantry centered on the ceremonial first pitch, which featured former mayor Tom Menino and his able replacement Marty Walsh.

If that wasn't enough (apparently it wasn't), the Red Sox also enlisted representatives of each of the city's championships of the 21st century to take part. Thus, Bruins champion Mark Recchi (sans the Cup, which resides in Chicago at the moment) was Menino's personal chauffeur on a golf cart, while Ty Law, Troy Brown and Tedy Bruschi each carried Super Bowl hardware to the mound. The Red Sox champs also came lugging their trophies with Pedro Martinez, Mike Lowell and Jason Varitek doing the honors.

Alas, candidates to cradle the Larry O'Brien trophy, which the Celtics secured in 2008, were in short supply. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were exiled to Brooklyn last summer, Ray Allen took his talents to South Beach long ago, and word on the street was that current Celtic Rajon Rondo was in class at the Mike Gorman School of Broadcasting in advance of his game against the lowly Sixers Friday night.

That left the Celtics with (drum roll, please) ... Leon Powe! What, Scot Pollard and Gabe Pruitt weren't available?

"We were talking about it in the dugout," said Ross, "and we all agreed -- one thing they really know how to do around here is hold a ceremony.

"I love how they have all the champions from the other sports together like that. You just don't see that in other cities. The Dodgers don't root for the Lakers. When I was in Atlanta, the Braves were ho-hum about the Hawks. But here, everybody's in it together."

It was all good theater all right, and on this day the game seemed almost secondary, which was good news for Sox reliever Edward Mujica, who took the mound in the ninth with the score knotted 2-2 and then unraveled in spectacular fashion, coughing up four runs in 2/3 of an inning.

It should be noted the catalyst of this rally was Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Lyle Overbay, who drilled a two-run triple to the right-field corner.

We can only imagine how Overbay felt as he sat shivering in the Brewers dugout for nearly an hour while the Red Sox featured all the highlights from 2013.

Overbay was one of the final cuts of spring training last March, and you have to wonder if ever occurred to him as he watched the giant video board: That could have been me.

There were some omissions, naturally. Jacoby Ellsbury and Stephen Drew played key roles in the World Series championship, but their highlight clips were notably absent. Ellsbury was in Toronto wearing pinstripes and awaiting a night game against the Blue Jays, while Drew, who rejected Boston's qualifying offer and remains an unsigned free agent, was probably fielding fungoes from Scott Boras.

Thus, the video montage, which was accurately described on the team's website as putting "nearly every memorable moment from last season back in living color" conveniently deleted Drew's home run in Game 6 in the World Series, as well as any one of the six hits that Ellsbury delivered against the Cardinals.

That's the wonderful thing about theater: You can tailor the show to your captive audience, making sure there's nothing but good vibrations throughout the park. Nobody needed a reminder on this day that Ellsbury defected to the Evil Empire.

The Red Sox ended up on the wrong end of a 6-2 loss, but, somehow, that fact was diluted amid the pomp and circumstance and emotion.

Now, hard-core baseball resumes. But, for one afternoon, all the Boston baseball world was a stage -- with Fenway Park front and center as the star.