At last, Sox have reason to celebrate

BOSTON -- The Red Sox want desperately to forget all about 2011, and to focus on 2012.

That process quickly began in October, when Ben Cherington was named the new general manager. It continued when Bobby Valentine was named the 45th manager in franchise history last week.

If there's a public hangover from the historic 2011 collapse, then Red Sox president/CEO Larry Lucchino believes the fan base is ready to calm the shakes and prepare for the 2012 season.

"I think there has been a change in mood already with the stability now represented by Ben Cherington as general manager and his team of people already in place, and the stability represented by Bobby Valentine as the manager and the energy he provides," Lucchino said. "I think people have begun, already, to look forward and not look back. We sense new energy, optimism, excitement about the team and I think the 100th anniversary celebration will only add excitement and anticipation of next season."

The Red Sox launched their 100th anniversary celebration of Fenway Park on Thursday morning at the storied ballpark, and Lucchino promised "a major, big-time party" to recognize the milestone.

A few current Red Sox players attended the club's centennial celebration kickoff, including catchers Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Ryan Lavarnway along with hitting coach Dave Magadan, pitcher Michael Bowden and outfielder Darnell McDonald.

Red Sox alumni Johnny Pesky, Jim Rice and Rico Petrocelli also attended the event. Boston mayor Thomas Menino spoke.

Lavarnway, who made his major league debut last season, grew up in California and said he remembers vividly the first time he attended a game at Fenway Park.

"Coming from California, I didn't really get it at first," Lavarnway said. "My first time here was when I was a freshman in college. My best friend, Chris Walsh, grew up in Westwood, Mass., and he was telling me about this place, trying to describe it but he couldn't find the words to describe the magic this place has."

The two sat in the center-field seats, just to the left of the bullpens. Wily Mo Pena was playing center for the Red Sox and he was interacting with the fans, and the fans were interacting with him.

"I still get chills thinking about that today," Lavarnway said. "Then I remember when I got drafted by the Red Sox and put on the big league uniform for the first time, it means more than just playing baseball in this city and this uniform."

When he first arrived here as a player, it didn't matter how small the Red Sox clubhouse is, or how the fans are right on top of the action. He's played in bigger and more comfortable ballparks, but nothing beats the atmosphere at Fenway.

"It's not always about the physical form to make things better," Lavarnway said. "It's about what it means and the sentimental value. I get it now. This place is special to me. Maybe not in the same way as people who grew up here, but it's become a special place in my heart."

Before Saltalamacchia arrived in Boston via trade during the 2010 season, he played at Fenway with the Texas Rangers. He's not about anniversaries or birthdays. To him, Fenway has always been, and will continue to be, a special place.

"It's just as special as it was last year," Saltalamacchia said. "I don't think it really matters if it's 50 years or 100 years here, the fans are still the same and the support they showed us last year, with everything we went through, was something I've never experienced before. I'm excited to go out this year and give back to them what we couldn't do last year."

Earlier this week, Magadan learned that he would return as the club's hitting coach for the sixth consecutive season. After Thursday's kickoff ceremonies at Fenway, he said he's thrilled he'll be a part of the ballpark's 100th birthday.

"It's going to be an honor to be a part of what happens here next year," Magadan said. "All the celebrations, and it's something that's never happened before. It's going to be pretty special. I consider this the greatest park in baseball. I know the first time I came here to play, it was special just the first time walking out there, and being able to come here to work on an everyday basis, you feel pretty special about that. It's going to be nice to be a part of that next year."

Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.