(Jim Davis / Boston.com / full gallery)
One of the most amazing moments in my experience with the Boston Red Sox took place at Fenway Park today, and it wasn't a part of either the ring ceremony or the game.
The ring ceremony had been a glossy production of pomp and circumstance, complete with an unruly 2007 Monster-sized championship banner and a truly touching scene between Johnny Pesky and the rest of the ring recipients, who could be heard calmly encouraging him as he struggled to haul up the 2007 flag.
It was less well-produced in some ways than the 2004 ceremony--I still don't understand why they didn't introduce the players aloud when they came out to get their rings, because it honestly sometimes sounded like the crowd wasn't into it. I wonder if that's because anyone seated more than 20 feet away from the home dugout might not have had a clue who they were looking at half the time.
Still, I thought I had experienced true Sox Zen when I watched Mike Timlin greet Curtis Leskanic (who had been entrusted somehow with the 04 trophy) for the first time in years; when I watched Oki and Papelbon stand together and quietly admire their rings; when I watched Manny point to his ring box and say to Johnny Pesky, "this is for you"; when the camera zoomed in on Jonathan Papelbon popping his gum enthusiastically as the fighter jets flew over during the Star-Spangled Banner.
But as it turned out, I was unprepared for what would follow Joe Castiglione's next lines in the script.
"Now it's time to welcome the star who will throw our ceremonial first pitch, on this day that we honor champions."
The Boston Pops were packing up. Grounds crew and volunteers were hustling back and forth with folding chairs and rakes. A buzz was building as people resumed conversations. The fireworks seemed to be over.
"And how happy we are, that amidst this celebration and joy, this Red Sox alumnus has come back to join us."
"Dave Roberts," I encouraged.
"He amassed Hall of Fame-caliber credentials in his 21-year Major League career, and the Red Sox would never have won the 1986 American League Pennant without him--"
"No," I said out loud to my TV screen. "No freaking way."
"--won't you please welcome back to Boston, and let him know that he is welcome always. Number 6--"
He came out from among the soldiers anchoring the huge American flag at the base of the Monster. By the time he'd reached center field, as Bobby Orr and Bill Russell and Tedy Bruschi and every single person at Fenway Park stood up and clapped for him, he was wiping away tears.
Dwight Evans stood at home plate in a jersey with a glove, ready to catch the first pitch. The camera slowly circled Buckner as he stood on the mound in the middle of Fenway Park. The crowd gave him a five minute standing ovation, while my goosebumps grew goosebumps.
It's not that it's so amazing that we've collectively 'forgiven' him--that, in fact, is only proper, a return to reality from a clearly insane injustice of the past. What had me in such awe is that he's forgiven us.
(Title: -François Mauriac (via)
Update 4/9/08: I feel the need to add some clarification to my last line, having seen lots of outraged commentary about the number of people who have forgotten Buckner's standing ovation on Opening Day 1987, or his standing ovation when he returned in 1990 as a player, or in 1997 when he returned as a hitting coach. First, I want to make clear that I *did* know about all that before writing this post, and didn't mean this post to indicate I thought this was his first time back.
Whether or not some fans were good enough to give him an ovation, in '87, doesn't mean that all or even most fans shared that graciousness. Buckner continues to hold 'the media' accountable for what happened to him and his family, but Dan Shaughnessy et al didn't run him out of town to Idaho singlehandedly.
What's lame is the idea that a World Series suddenly made us 'forgive' Buckner. Most Sox fans seem to realize that the '86 loss wasn't his fault; most Sox fans don't feel there's anything to 'forgive'. (Hence the quotes in the original post).
But when I say I'm amazed he's forgiven us, what I mean is that I felt this appearance was different from his previous returns. In those instances, he was there because he had a job to do, and whether the fans booed him or cheered him was really not the point, though it was of course good that they were supportive. In this instance, his appearance was completely elective - a totally reconciliatory gesture that says that he forgives it all--all the fans who weren't so gracious, the sportswriters who were unfair--and is freely willing to be a part of the whole Red Sox zeitgeist again, voluntarily.
That's just flat-out amazing to me. I've never been in a position like his, of course, but from where I sit right now, I don't think I have the capacity for that kind of graciousness.
Because as disingenous as it would be to claim that yesterday's appearance was Buckner's very first 'all is forgiven' homecoming, it would be equally disingenuous to paint Sox fans all lily-white in this, too. Take l-girl's reply to a JoS post on the appearance:
My memories of '86 is that Red Sox [fans] I knew were not at all forgiving, and that includes you. That was my first inside view of fans hating their own players - the first of many, but because it was new, it sticks in my mind.
Some fans (i.e., you, Ray) were disgusted at that 1987 standing ovation at Fenway. Your hatred wasn't media generated. It was heartbreak-generated, and it was very real, and it lasted a long time.
Or what Jose Melendez witnessed at a Boston bar even as the introduction was made:
Yet, the current persists swift and strong. At the bar, Jose heard the jokes about whether Buckner would drop the ball. On the SoSH game thread, the clever quipped that it should have been Dave Stapleton throwing out the first pitch instead. Even as the crowd was cheering, even as Buckner brought his fingers to his eyes to wipe away misty tears, the rejoinders and witticisms still dribbled along like a ball down the first base line.
Or, just the fact of all the people coming out of the woodwork today to find something wrong with yesterday's moment, instead of just appreciating it for what it was.