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2005: Diary of a Season
Red Sox 8, Yankees 1
This year's Opening Day was the most highly-anticipated in Red Sox history. They'd be raising a Championship banner for the first time in 86 years, and receiving their rings for the first time ever (rings weren't being awarded yet in the early days when they won their first five World Series). And they'd be doing it with the Yankees - authors of the Biggest Choke in Sports History - present, as they were the opponents for the home opener for the first time in several years. I wasn't able to get a ticket, but I still took the day off and went into Fenway. My plan was to stand on the sidewalk across the street from the Green Monster, and watch the ceremony on the scoreboard. I had of course set my VCR at home, so I could watch the whole thing later.
I got to Fenway at 10:00. There was a long line of people stretching the length of Lansdowne Street from the day-of-game ticket window near Gate C, under the Green Monster, up to Brookline near Game On - the new restaurant opening on the corner where the entrance to the bowling alley under Fenway Park used to be - and around the corner. I felt bad for all these people standing in the cold all day thinking they were actually going to get in. Since the ticket office opens at 9 am, if there had been a few day-of-game tickets available, I figured they'd be long gone by now. I walked down Yawkey Way, taking pictures of the new 2004 World Series Champions banner at the end of the street near Gate D. Then I staked out a good spot across from the players' entrance to cheer them all as they came in. We saw Jerry Remy, John W. Henry, Mark Bellhorn, Jason Varitek, Joe Castiglione, Wade Miller, Edgar Renteria, Kevin Millar, Trot Nixon, Dr. Charles Steinberg, Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Johnny Pesky, and Abe Alvarez. The visiting players normally arrive at a different lot, on the corner of Ipswich and Lansdowne. But for some reason, the next car that pulled up contained none other than Yankees closer Mariano Rivera. While normally regarded as one of the most dominant relievers in history, he had had his troubles against the Red Sox. In 2004, he blew the save the day of the famous "brawl game" in July, coughed up another one against the Sox in Yankee Stadium in September, and choked in the biggest way possible in Games 4 and 5 of the ALCS. Making it even better for Sox fans, he picked up in 2005 where he had left off, blowing two more saves in the Sox' opening series in New York. So when he stepped out of the car, a couple of people started clapping and yelling "Thank you!" and before we knew it everyone on the corner of the street was cheering. It was really funny!
I walked down Lansdowne and back toward Kenmore Square to see how much tickets were going for. Standing room tickets were fetching $500, which is well beyond my price range. I wondered if the price would come down once the ceremony started. I went back up to Fenway, bought an Italian sausage, and stood on the sidewalk in front of the parking garage overlooking the Green Monster. It used to be easier to see the scoreboard from the street before the seats and the Volvo and Sports Authority signs were added, but I could see most of it. It was about 1:45 now, with the ceremony starting at 2 and the game at 3. All of a sudden, I noticed the line of people waiting for tickets was starting to move! Were there really tickets left? Certainly not enough for everyone in line - it stretched the length of the street! I wouldn't be able to see the scoreboard from there, but it would be stupid of me not to try. "Keep the faith," I thought, and got in the line. Every five or ten minutes the line would move up a little as a group of people was allowed up to the ticket windows. I assumed they were getting standing room tickets, but there was no way there'd be any left for me... or would there? As the ceremony got underway, we listened in from the street. A bunch of people stood in the middle of the street to see what they could on the scoreboard. They had to keep moving as cars tried to drive by. When PA announcer Carl Beane welcomed us to "Fenway Park, America's most beloved ballpark and home of the World Champion Boston Red Sox," we all cheered outside along with everyone inside the park.
It was a little hard to hear everything from the street. Members of the Boston Pops were in center field to provide a musical back-drop. When I got home and watched the tape, I saw that they had lowered five banners over the Green Monster representing the team's first five Championships, followed by a giant "2004 World Champions" banner the size of the whole Green Monster. Wounded soldiers from the Walter Reed Army Medical Center emerged from under the banner carrying the rings and trophy while James Taylor sang "America the Beautiful." The rings were given out next, but the players were introduced by showing their names on the scoreboard while the orchestra played. There was no spoken introduction, so out on the street we could just hear the cheering but didn't know who it was for. I saw later that Terry Francona recieved his first, then the players in descending order of when they started playing for the Sox, from Ellis Burks, Tim Wakefield, and Trot Nixon, on down to Lenny DiNardo and Mark Malaska. Burks and Curtis Leskanic, who had both retired after the season, returned, as did Derek Lowe and Dave Roberts, who were both with new teams.
After all the players, coaches, and staff, the venerable Johnny Pesky came out. Then the players all made their way to center field, where they were joined by Red Sox greats from through the years, including Luis Tiant, Dom DiMaggio, Bill Lee, Carl Yastrzemski, and Bruce Hurst. Yaz joined Pesky in raising the "2004 World Champions" banner on the center field flag pole. It was only raised to half-staff because of the Pope's death, so we couldn't really see it out on the street, but the good news was that the line had moved enough by then that I was down near the center field end of the street. But now instead of taking groups of ten or twenty people up to the ticket windows at a time, it was more like five or six at a time. Inside, the starting lineups for the Yankees and Red Sox were being introduced. The names were all read aloud, so we could hear them out on the street, where we booed the Yankee players with as much gusto as those in the park. (Again, Rivera received a spontaneous standing ovation and prolonged cheers, which he took in stride by tipping his cap.)
The Red Sox were introduced next. After the season Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe had left as free agents. The Sox had signed David Wells and Matt Clement to fill out the rotation. They let Orlando Cabrera go, and signed Edgar Renteria. Back-up outfielders Dave Roberts and Gabe Kapler had moved on, with Jay Payton the new-comer. Ramon Vazquez took Pokey Reese's spot in the infield, and Matt Mantei, John Halama, and Blaine Neal were the new relievers on the staff. (The military flyover after the National Anthem took us by surprise on the street, because we hadn't heard the announcement that it was coming.) Next the people who were throwing out the first pitch were introduced. It was a collection of World Champions from the other Boston sports - Celtics legend Bill Russell, Bruins great Bobby Orr (though from outside I couldn't tell if they had said Bobby Doerr), and Patriots Tedy Bruschi (recovering from a recent stroke) and Richard Seymour.
As the game started, the people at the ticket windows said they were almost out. I couldn't believe I had gotten almost to the front, and missed seeing the ceremony for nothing. Meanwhile, the first inning started. We heard two cheers, a groan, then another cheer and the between-innings music. It turned out the groan was a harmless two-out walk, and Wakefield had retired the Yankees without incident. I waited in the line, and a couple more tickets opened up for the two guys directly in front of me. I was next! But then a Red Sox staffer came over and told me that was all they had. I flashed back to the day last December when the trophy had come to my office, and the line to meet Alan Embree cut off when I would have been next. Not again! "I only need one," I said. He said he'd check, then came back and told me there was one left! I was in! At face value - $23 - and it wasn't even standing room, it was a seat in Section 38 of the bleachers! I ran in, just in time for the second inning.
My string of Opening Day attendance was not broken after all, and the people I was seated next to agreed my story of getting the ticket was a good one. They filled me in on the parts of the ceremony I hadn't been able to see, and the game so far. Because I hadn't thought I'd be going to the game when I left the house that morning, I hadn't brought my scorecard with me, and I didn't want to leave my seat to get one since I had already missed an inning and a half as it was. It turns out I really missed keeping score. I was lost - not lost where I couldn't follow the game - but I felt very detached, like I was just watching, whereas keeping score makes me feel much more a part of the game. Doug Mirabelli got the scoring started with a two-run homer in the second. Millar's single in the third knocked in two more, and an A-Rod error led to three more Red Sox runs in the fourth (prompting a "Thank you, A-Rod" chant). The Sox tacked on their final run on Mueller's double in the eighth, and they cruised to an 8-1 win.
After the game, I took a walk around behind the dugout, since I hadn't been able to before the game. The scoreboard on the Green Monster had been expanded to include the A.L. East standings (and also a giant new ad). It's ironic that the day they debuted the new standings, the Sox' 2-4 record actually had them in last place. It wouldn't be a bad thing to be able to keep track of the standings throughout the year, but I could do without the extra ad. And the longer the scoreboard portion gets, the less padding there is to protect the fielders. Fred Lynn had been hurt crashing into the Wall in the '75 Series, which is what prompted them to pad it in the first place. Now the trend seemed to be going back the other direction. The other new change this year was that the walkway behind the last row of the grandstand in the Section 15-16 area had expanded. The wall behind the grandstand had been moved back, providing a larger walkway where more concessions and tables would be added later. It was sorely needed, because it used to be impossible to get through up there, with barely enough space for the standing room crowd. The rest of the 2005 changes were less obvious to fans. The field had been completely redone to provide better drainage. And the players' clubhouse area under the stands in Section 16 had been expanded to include a batting cage, a players' lounge, a media room, and better training facilities.
Ring of the Rings
The next day the Red Sox had the day off, but there was an event at Fenway called "Ring of the Rings." Fans would have the chance to walk around the warning track and get a look at the rings handed out the day before. So of course I took the afternoon off and went in. As we entered the field through the garage door in center field, there were posters hanging on the wall depicting the Red Sox' previous Championships and each win from their current one. In front of each dugout were tables holding a couple of the rings and memorabilia borrowed from the Hall of Fame for the occasion. Behind home plate was the World Series trophy, and fans could pose with pictures with it. But as I waited in line and neared the visitors' dugout, it started to snow. Yes, it was mid-April, but it was snowing! They quickly moved the rings and trophy into the dugouts, but now they were harder to see.
In the visitors' dugout I got a good look at Pokey Reese's and Pedro Martinez's rings. (I thought it was cool I got to see Pedro's ring before he did!) As the line moved on to the home dugout, I came to the memorabilia display. It was hard to see what everything was, because it was down in the dugout and we had to stay up on the top step. But they had the "final out ball" from the 1903 World Series; balls signed by the 1912 and 1918 Championship teams; pins commemorating the 1912, '15, '16, and '18 World Series wins (rings weren't given out back then); and cards with the words to "Tessie" which were used by the Royal Rooters. Next were Gabe Kapler's and Orlando Cabrera's rings. Then there was the final out ball from the 2004 World Series, which Doug Mientkiewicz maintained that he owned, but he had loaned to the Red Sox so they could display it with the trophy. It was framed in a nice case. Finally, there was the World Series trophy itself, although it looked a little strange sitting unceremoniously on the dugout bench by itself. Because it was snowing, we couldn't get our pictures taken with it, which was disappointing. I had seen the trophy before, but a lot of people I had talked to in the line hadn't yet, and were really looking forward to it.
It was cold and snowing, and I wasn't dressed as warmly as I should have been, so I didn't hang out much longer. But when I got home and watched the news, I saw that later they had moved everything inside to the concourse where people could have their pictures taken. I would have stayed longer if I had known they were going to do that.
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