In the annals of momentous returns to Fenway, it probably does not rank with Bill Buckner’s emotion-drenched homecoming in 2008, nor with Ted Williams’s cap-doffing appearance at the All-Star game nine years before that.
But when Martha Coakley — whose derisive remarks about the efficacy of campaigning outside the lyric little bandbox during her 2010 US Senate campaign were regarded as a new height for out-of-tune campaigns — gripped and grinned on Yawkey Way Wednesday, she still had something to play for.
Coakley, like Republican gubernatorial candidate Charles D. Baker, is spending much of the early part of her campaign trying to prove she has learned the lessons of 2010. Criticized for running a cloistered, enervated campaign then, she launched a 19-municipality tour on Monday.
Fenway on Wednesday night was its climax.
“Can I say hi? Martha Coakley, running for governor,” she told one middle-aged woman she approached outside Fenway Park, about an hour before the start of the Red Sox game against the Orioles. Wednesday was “Beard Night” at Fenway Park, where fans in either naturally grown or ersatz beards could buy a ticket for $1, a celebration of the hirsute team nearing its season’s end.
John Grasso, 47, of Providence told Coakley he had met her in the elevator of the US Supreme Court in 2008, when Coakley was in Washington to argue for the Commonwealth in Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, a Sixth Amendment case.
“You look very familiar,” Coakley responded, an assertion Grasso, a criminal defense attorney, appeared not to buy completely.
Another man, waiting with two friends for another to join them, asked Coakley, “Do you want to be our fourth?”
“No,” Coakley smiled.
“Oh, c’mon, Martha,” replied the man, who declined to be identified.
“It’s always tricky trying to get everybody in the same place outside the game,” Coakley sympathized.
Not that Coakley was universally recognized.
“It’s, like, a dollar ticket if you go to Gate E,” one young man, wearing a fake beard, told Coakley after she asked whether he had paid the discount rate.
Coakley was not always so eager to campaign outside the city’s revered ballpark. In 2010, her campaign was criticized for being too passive in contrast with the campaign of eventual victor Scott Brown, who greeted would-be voters outside the NHL Winter Classic at Fenway on New Year’s Day. Coakley shot back, “As opposed to standing outside Fenway Park? In the cold? Shaking hands?”
Coakley’s retort became a watchword among Brown supporters and reportedly irked President Obama, whose health care bill was then in the offing. In his book, “The Promise,” author Jonathan Alter reported that, when informed of the remark, Obama grabbed political adviser David Axelrod, and yelled: “No! No! You’re making that up! That can’t be right! Tell me she didn’t say that!”
On Wednesday, Coakley acknowledged the legend that had built up behind her words.
“I’ve said I made mistakes in that race, and one of the things that I regretted afterward is that people had the perception that I didn’t work hard or that I didn’t care about it. I know that sort of became the symbol.”
But, she said, she was committed to avoiding past mistakes.
“In this campaign, I have vowed I want to talk about running for governor, what is important for the next governor,” Coakley said, before going to pose for photos with school-age girls wearing fake, gray beards, and then across Brookline Avenue to Boston Beer Works.
“I’m going to be all over the Commonwealth,” she said.
It was neither cold, nor near the end of a failed campaign on Wednesday. It was seasonably warm, a terrific night for a ballgame.
Aides flanked Coakley, at a distance but protectively, snapping cellphone pictures and talking up the reception she has received across the state since the barnstorming started.
She asked about whether fans had come to the game especially for Beard Night. She said her favorite member of the Sox is Jacoby Ellsbury. She shook many hands. She said she would like to come back in January.
On Yawkey Way, amid the bearded ladies and the ticket scalpers, Coakley searched for redemption.