The pause lasted a full 13 seconds. Bill Buckner sat at a table in the Fenway Park interview room, a microphone in front of him, and pondered the question. Had he had second thoughts about throwing out the first pitch at yesterday’s home opener and celebration of the 2007 World Series win?
His eyes grew wet and red. Dwight Evans, seated next to him, reached out and put his arm around Buckner.
”I really had to forgive, not the fans of Boston, per se, but I would have to say in my heart I had to forgive the media,” Buckner said, after apologizing for taking so long to answer. “For what they put me and my family through. So, you know, I’ve done that and I’m over that.”
But that hardly stopped the emotions. Not on the mound. Not in the interview room.
After all the ceremony, the handing out of rings and hoisting of the championship banner and introducing of Patriots, Bruins, and Celtics legends, there was Buckner walking out from left field to the mound. He walked slowly, perhaps a remnant of those aching ankles and knees that marred his career. And as he walked, the fans cheered.
They stood, their ovation carrying him from the outfield through the infield to the mound, where he acknowledged them and clapped. They stood after that, still cheering, as he looked around, as he readied himself, as he threw a strike to Evans at home plate.
”Just seeing him walk out, I couldn’t have been happier for him,” Evans said. “This guy had tremendous numbers, total stats, and I don’t even know if he got a couple votes for the Hall of Fame, which I really think is a shame.
“No one played harder than Bill. No one prepared themselves as well as Bill Buckner did, and no one wanted to win as much as Bill Buckner.
“It was kind of neat. I know he was emotional on the mound. You know, it was emotional for me, too.”
And Buckner almost didn’t come.
“I just didn’t think I was going to do it,” said Buckner, who was called about a month and a half ago by Dick Bresciani, now a vice president emeritus with the Sox. “I told Dick I’d think about it, but I made up my mind. I wasn’t going to come. Then I prayed about it a little, and here I am. Glad I came.”
This was not the first time Buckner had faced Fenway and the fans since his infamous 1986 moment. Not only did he play for the Red Sox for 75 games in 1987, he returned to the team for 22 games in 1990. But since that time, there has been healing in Red Sox Nation. His name might still evoke a picture of the ball heading between his legs in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, but with two championships in the meantime, the hurt has subsided.
”As a team, we went into that thing feeling that we could win,” Buckner said. “We thought that we had the best team, but we didn’t win, we didn’t win as a team.
”You go back and you could look at that series and point fingers in a whole bunch of different directions. John McNamara’s taken a lot of heat. I don’t think that’s deserved.
”We did the best we could to win there and it just didn’t happen. I don’t feel that I deserved [the blame]. And if I felt like it was my fault, I’d step up to the plate and say, `Hey, if I wasn’t here, the Red Sox would have won this thing.’ But I really can’t do that.”
More than affecting him, the blame affected his family, especially his kids.
He was affected again yesterday, but this time the emotion was positive. Buckner said he’d like to return, take part in reunions, see his old friends. He would have earlier, but other commitments prevented him. Until yesterday.
”I’ve probably never almost been in tears for somebody else on the baseball field,” said Kevin Youkilis, who made a point to shake Buckner’s hand. “I think that was just the most unbelievable thing. It shows how great of a man Bill Buckner is.
”There’s not too many people that can do what he did today and face thousands of people that booed him, threatened his life. For a man to step out there on the field, it shows how much of a man he is.
”I tip my cap. I just wanted to shake his hand. Because that’s a true man in life.”