FOXBOROUGH – The introduction was a little more intense than Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester might have been used to.
Fresh off their rolling rally through Boston on Saturday, Gillette Stadium was the latest stop on the Red Sox’ World Series victory tour, and before the Patriots and Steelers kicked things off, the Sox got the full NFL experience.
The walked out through the tunnel. Their names blared through the speakers.
Sox owner John Henry, pitchers Clay Buchholz and Felix Doubront, and shortstop Stephen Drew all graciously soaked up the praise from the packed crowd.
Then Jonny Gomes, in fire-engine red boots, rushed through the tunnel as if it was game day for him, too.
All he needed was pads.
“That’s about par of the course for him, right?” Lester said. “I don’t think really you expect anything less from him. You know he’s going to enjoy every minute of it and probably do something that nobody else is going to do. I don’t think it caught any of us by surprise.”
With John McDonald, Will Middlebrooks, David Ross, Matt Thornton, Shane Victorino, and Lester, there were enough Sox to run a play or two if they wanted.
Some of them did.
“Trying to relive my heydays running out of a tunnel,” Victorino said. “I thought of those days when I was a good athlete. It’s special to come out of that same tunnel Patriots players come out of, the likes of [Rob] Gronkowski, [Tom] Brady.
“I got to see coach for a little bit. That’s what makes this opportunity, for me, special. Getting the opportunity to see winners when you take the field, to go out and walk that same tunnel.”
Lester was the last man out. He held the World Series trophy high over his head.
“You don’t realize how far 50 yards is until you have to walk it with a trophy,” Lester said. “But it was pretty cool.”
Cheering from the sideline, the Patriots showed their mutual respect. Brady shook hands with Lester and Buchholz. Gomes and Gronkowski chatted each other up.
Lester then went to midfield to serve as an honorary captain during the coin toss.
“I know it’s cool for us when these guys show up to Fenway when they win and the Celtics and the Bruins,” Lester said. “I think we spend so much time up here and a lot of the football guys live here, so I think it’s like home for them. So you end up rooting for your hometown teams. So it’s awesome to be a part of this and we thank these guys for inviting us over here and giving us a chance to experience this.”
With the Sox exercising their $13 million option on Lester’s contract for the 2014 season, Lester also has the luxury of being able to celebrate stress-free.
“The deadline was four days after the World Series, so you knew it wasn’t going to get dragged on whether or not they were going to pick it up,” Lester said. “But I’m glad that it’s over with and it’s something that I don’t have to worry about right now and then just enjoy the celebration. So a lot of positives on a lot of different ends. So it was good.”
For Lester, even though he was a part of the 2007 World Series team, these moments are especially memorable the second time around.
“I think a lot more this time than I learned that time,” he said. “Like I’ve kind of said from day 1 of this whole deal: In ‘07, I didn’t really get a chance to enjoy it as much as this year. Just different circumstances, a different age, maturity level, all that.
“So for me to be able to do stuff like this today, it’s a different part of my career where as in ‘07 I probably wouldn’t have been asked to do something like this. It’s a big, big difference, taking a couple extra days to stay in Boston and enjoy it and be around these guys and be around the fans.”