It was all great . . . until the game started.
No organization serves history and tradition better than the Red Sox. The Olde Towne Team treated an ever-loyal constituency to a boffo bash on Friday, celebrating the 100th birthday of Fenway Park. No less than 212 former Red Sox players, coaches, and managers emerged from every corner of the ancient ballfield in a cornball, cornfield pregame ceremony that raised hair on forearms and sparked memories of 10 decades of hardball heartaches and triumph.
Sweet Caroline Kennedy, daughter of JFK, and great-granddaughter of former Boston mayor John “Honey Fitz’’ Fitzgerald - the original ceremonial pitcher - was among a trio of first tossers, paying homage to Fenway’s first day in 1912 and signifying that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Red Sox Nation.
Unfortunately, the nine innings that followed the spectacular Fenway festivus kindled memories of the dark past (86 years between championships) rather than the 21st century successes of the fabled franchise. After a 50-minute lawn party for the ages, the 2012 Red Sox were buffeted by the Yankees, 6-2, a thrashing that has become all too common since the vaunted Franconamen of 2011 folded historically in September.
If you are still keeping track, your last-place Red Sox are 4-9, have lost 29 of their last 40 games, look colossally overmatched and underprepared for the season ahead, and appear doomed to miss the playoffs for a third straight season despite the third-highest payroll in baseball.
But why wallow in today’s reality when you can celebrate the past? Sox maestro Dr. Charles Steinberg and vice president Sarah McKenna put on a show worthy of Boston’s landmark ballyard on Friday. Hall of Famer Bobby Doerr, who first played for the Sox in 1937, was wheeled onto the field alongside 92-year-old teammate Johnny Pesky (who wept openly through most of the procession) at the conclusion of a ceremony that featured Carl Yastrzemski, Pumpsie Green, Jim Rice, Dwight Evans, and the other gods of our youth walking out of Fenway’s perimeter doors and dugouts, taking their places in the very same spots where they thrilled fans all those years ago.
It was spectacular.
“Only baseball could produce the emotion and heart that we saw today,’’ said commissioner Bud Selig. “It was even better than I thought it would be. It captured what this place has meant to this community and to all of baseball through all these years.’’
“This was as good at it gets,’’ echoed Senator John Kerry. “The only thing missing was James Earl Jones. We all felt the emotions of the day. The only thing missing was a win for the Red Sox.’’
On the morning after 54,000 fans filed into Fenway for a free tour on Thursday, television crews set up camp as early at 4 a.m. Friday. The first elevator breakdown (the charm of a 100-year-old building) didn’t happen until 9:57 a.m., and by 12:15 the Sox were delivering props to the late Levon Helm, playing “Up on Cripple Creek’’ over the park’s public address system while David Ortiz and friends took batting practice.
The gates opened at 12:30 and fans quickly rushed to the rails to be part of history.
“Fenway Park is like a time-share condo for me,’’ said Newton resident Patty Adair, who attended her first game in the early 1970s. “It’s like a home away from home for me. I feel like it is my home.’’
She was not home alone. Adair soon was surrounded by almost 38,000 like-minded spirits, as everyone braced for the pregame spectacle.
At approximately 2:15, Messrs. Doerr and Pesky were seated in chairs near the Red Sox dugout while Carl Beane, the ghost of the late Sherm Feller, called the crowd to attention. It was time to cue the score of “The Natural’’ and start the soft parade of greats and regulars who toiled for the Boston Red Sox over the last eight decades.
Rice was first. He came out of the big garage door in left and took his position in front of the Green Monster. Then Evans walked out of the door in center and strolled toward right. Then Bill Buckner appeared from canvas alley. Then Frank Malzone. Then Jerry Remy. Reggie Smith. Jim Lonborg. Luis Tiant. Oil Can Boyd. Bruce Hurst. Billy Rohr. Jose Santiago. Dave Stapleton (unfortunately he did not go to first base; he stopped at second). Former manager Terry Francona received the loudest cheer, no doubt an indictment of Sox ownership and new manager Bobby Valentine.
There were no individual announcements; instead each player and manager was identified on the video board in center. It went on for more than 20 minutes before Yaz popped out of the Sox dugout and trudged toward left.
Then we had John Williams and the Boston Pops and a flyover. Players merged on the Fenway infield.
Wearing their vintage 1912 ice cream truck uniforms, the 2012 Red Sox came out to join their forebears.
Caroline Kennedy (a southpaw), Tom Fitzgerald (grandson of Honey Fitz), and mayor Thomas Menino were the ceremonial first-ball tossers. In 1912 fashion, they made their throws from box seats close to the dugout. Carlton Fisk, Rice, and Yaz were the recipients.
“It was very special,’’ said Menino. “I’ve been coming to this park all my life. Having the opportunity to throw out a first pitch to Jim Rice is something I’ll never forget. It was a great day, wasn’t it?’’
It was a great day. And the way the Red Sox are going, it might be the last great day for a while.
After the latest loss, an inconvenient truth on this day of celebration, the Sox stayed on message and serenaded exiting fans with “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?’’ and “It’s My Party and I’ll Cry if I Want To.’’
Sadly, the party’s over. Fenway is officially and forever 100 years old. Now the Red Sox have to impress you by winning baseball games.