Jim Rice was the first to emerge from a door beneath the stands to take his spot in left field, where he had patrolled Fenway Park’s greensward for many a summer day and night.
The Hall of Fame left fielder was followed by Dwight Evans, who emerged from a holding pen beneath the center field bleachers and sauntered to right field, where he played it as elegantly as any player in the park’s 100-year history.
Then, from the groundskeepers’ alley tucked in the stands along the right-field line, ambled Bill Buckner to take his position at first base. Simultaneously, Frank Malzone ambled down the left-field line toward third base.
Long absolved for his error in Game 6 in the 1986 World Series, Buckner was greeted with thunderous applause by the crowd of 36,770, who threw a collective embrace around more than 200 former players, coaches, and managers in their return for Friday’s 6-2 loss to the New York Yankees on the 100th anniversary of this emerald jewel in the Fens.
But on this resplendent spring afternoon, one by one the household names and faces streamed into the park — as if emerging from a cornfield in Iowa — as special invited guests of the Red Sox in a well-orchestrated ceremony that was understated but still able to evoke all the emotion of a much-anticipated family reunion.
“I guess it was like the ultimate class/family reunion,’’ said Bruce Hurst, the former Sox lefthander whose only lament was that Mel Parnell and Roger Clemens weren’t able to attend. “There were guys I hadn’t seen in 30-some-odd years. I got to get caught up with them. The more you talked and reminisced, really there aren’t a lot of words [to describe it].
“It was emotional for a lot of us,’’ Hurst said, his eyes welling up. “It was for me, walking out on the field. Just the reception and the memories and to stand out there and to see one after another after another come out, it was cool.’’
The sight of the former players drew not only oohs and aahs, but in the case of Lou Merloni and Nomar Garciaparra, “Looous’’ and “No-mahs’’ when the former teammates strode into the park to huge reactions.
But who got the biggest cheer?
“To be honest, at first impression, I think it was Lou Merloni,’’ said Pedro Martinez, who drew a loud cheer himself when he joined cult figure Kevin Millar atop the Red Sox dugout, where they brandished bottles of sparkling grape juice and served as official toastmasters for the ceremony. The 32,904 who joined in the toast in honor of Fenway’s first game April 20, 1912, set a record for the largest toast in a single venue.
“Did you hear how the stadium went when he came in?’’ Martinez said of Merloni. “When they said, ‘Lou,’ it seemed louder than anybody’s, but without a doubt it was for Johnny Pesky and Bobby Doerr, I think they got the biggest ovation.’’
“I think my vote goes to Terry Francona,’’ said Millar, giving the nod to the former Sox manager who guided Boston to World Series titles in 2004 and 2007. Francona initially balked at returning after the fallout of his exit last fall, but reconsidered and was greeted by a heartfelt ovation.
“I said, ‘Man, I thought I got a nice one,’ and then he came out and it was like a Learjet went right by my ears,’’ Millar said. “It was pretty cool, pretty special. I was glad he was here.’’
Pesky and Doerr certainly generated the ceremony’s most emotional moment, though, when the oldest living members of the Red Sox alumni were flanked by David Ortiz as they were ushered to second base in wheelchairs steered by recently retired Jason Varitek, who pushed Pesky, and Tim Wakefield, who did the same for Doerr.
“When Johnny Pesky and Bobby Doerr came out, that got to me,’’ Millar said. “That’s when it got to me, that was tear-jerking.’’
The sight of the 92-year-old Pesky, long a favorite in the clubhouse of players past and present, weeping as he took the field did not leave a dry eye in the house.
But there were moments of levity as well, such as when Jose Canseco expressed some preceremony jitters when he tweeted, “OK, I will get shot, standing ovation, or booed.’’
Surprisingly, Canseco’s presence resulted in none of the above as he emerged from the center-field holding pen to warm applause, stopping near the triangle to flex his right biceps. When all the players assembled on the field, they were joined by current Red Sox, who donned white throwback uniforms for the occasion.
“Actually, Jon Lester came up to me and said hello,’’ Hurst said. “That was nice of him to do that - very nice. A great guy. It was unbelievable to stand out there for that moment. Like I said, I’ll probably never get to be in Fenway Park out on the field again - at least I won’t be around for the 200th anniversary. But it was indescribable. It was better than I anticipated.’’
After John Williams conducted a special “Fenway Fanfare,’’ Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart took the baton for the national anthem that was punctuated by a flyover in which a vintage P-51 Mustang flew wingtip-to-wingtip with an F-16 fighter jet, the past holding hands with the present.
It was very much the theme of this ceremony. A century ago, Mayor John “Honey Fitz’’ Fitzgerald threw out the game’s first official pitch.
Friday, that honor fell to his heirs and successor as the threesome of Caroline Kennedy, a great-granddaughter, current mayor Thomas Menino, and Thomas Fitzgerald, grandson of the former mayor. They threw out the first pitch - to Carlton Fisk, Rice, and Carl Yastrzemski, respectively - from the first row of seats near the home dugout, where they were flanked by Sox principal owner John Henry, chairman Tom Werner, and president/CEO Larry Lucchino.
It was all in homage to a park that was at the epicenter of the festivities.
“How do you go up to Mr. Henry, Mr. Werner, and Mr. Lucchino and say, ‘This is phenomenal,’ ’’ said Hurst, who marveled at the improvements when he visited Fenway Park in 2008. “How do you tell them thanks for saving it and not only saving it, but making it better?
“I know there’s some people out there that criticize it because it’s not state-of-the-art and all that stuff but, man, it’s Fenway. It’s as state-of-the-art as it needs to be. It does everything and more. I don’t care what they build and I don’t care how fancy they may make other stadiums, it’ll never be Fenway. It’s a real jewel.’’Michael Vega can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.