After a shortened 2020 season filled with grief and isolation amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Red Sox inched toward normalcy with Opening Day at Fenway Park on Friday afternoon.
Fans were back in the stands — at 12 percent capacity — for the first time since the 2019 season, and before a 3-0 loss to Baltimore, elation, gratitude, and relief filled the air.
The Red Sox paid tribute to the notable baseball figures who died in recent months, including former Sox coach Ron Johnson and outfielder Billy Conigliaro, along with the victims of COVID-19 around the world.
The team also recognized the “everyday heroes” of the pandemic, some of whom were in the stands.
First pitches were thrown out by new Boston Mayor Kim Janey, Cpl. Shamar Martin of the Army National Guard (and the Red Sox sales staff), and Dr. Edward Ullman, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center emergency room physician.
Former Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia and his three sons said “play ball!” from their home in Arizona via a video on the scoreboard. Michelle Brooks-Thompson performed the national anthem ahead of a flyover by an F-15 from Barnes Air National Guard Base in Westfield, an F-35 from Vermont’s Air National Guard, and a KC-46A Pegasus from Pease Air National Guard Base in New Hampshire.
Orioles first baseman Trey Mancini, who missed last season while being treated for colon cancer, received some extra cheers when he was introduced.
“Having our fans out there, they’re the best out there,” Sox starter Nate Eovaldi said. “Having them out there supporting us throughout the entire game, it was, given the cold weather and everything like that, the national anthem, the flyover, all of it was just unbelievable. Perfect.”
In the press box, the Red Sox left a space open with a bouquet of flowers and a photograph of the late Mike Shalin, who died in December. Shalin covered the Sox for the Herald from 1980-2005 before becoming an official scorer.
On the field, returning manager Alex Cora was met with a warm welcome by the small crowd following his year-long suspension for his involvement in the Houston Astros 2017 cheating scandal.
Cora said before the game that it was hard to put into words what it meant to be back in a Red Sox uniform.
“I love this city. I love it,” Cora said. “It’s not my frickin’ city, like David [Ortiz] said, you know, but there’s something about Boston.
“There’s something about Fenway, there’s something about being around these people that moves me, you know, it gets me going. And we love it here. We love everything that comes with the Red Sox. The ups and downs and the obstacles. And we deal with it as a family — as a group.”
Peter Abraham and Alex Speier of the Globe staff contributed to this report.