Last year, Opening Day was all about the pomp and circumstance of Fenway Park’s 100th anniversary.
On Monday, the Red Sox hosted the Baltimore Orioles on Opening Day 2013 and commemorated the 60th anniversary of their partnership with the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Jimmy Fund, hailed as the longest-standing and most extensive team/charity relationship in all of professional sports.
Former Jimmy Fund chairman Mike Andrews said, “As I’ve said, playing 13 years of professional baseball, two World Series, an All-Star Game, and being part of the ’67 Red Sox, it doesn’t really compare to the 31 years I spent at Dana-Farber and with the Jimmy Fund.’’
Andrews resigned from the position in 2010, a year in which the fund raised $61 million for research. He was part of a group of former Red Sox players representing the six decades of the partnership with Dana-Farber. They escorted patients past and present along with their caregivers across Fenway’s greensward in left field and toward the pitching mound, where they threw out ceremonial first pitches.
“It’s kind of unparalleled in the sports industry to have a charity and a sports team have a relationship for over 60 years,’’ said Jimmy Fund director Suzanne Fountain. “We’ve raised over $100 million through partnerships with the Red Sox for cancer research and care at Dana-Farber.
“It’s a phenomenal partnership and it gets bigger and better every year and keeps growing stronger every year.’’
The Red Sox adopted the Jimmy Fund as their charity when the Boston Braves, who originally had championed the cause, departed for Milwaukee. Before the Braves left town, team owner Lou Perini appealed to Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey to take up the cause.
The Jimmy Fund had found a new home at Fenway Park — and a new champion in the team’s biggest marquee name, Ted Williams.
“Unquestionably, Ted Williams was the most important person to get the word out about the Jimmy Fund,’’ Andrews said. “I look at all the Red Sox players who have done so much over all these years, but Ted Williams can never be surpassed in that role. He was the Jimmy Fund.
“He took it to heart, and when Ted took something to heart, he took it to heart. He was fantastic.’’
Andrews’s own heartstrings were tugged when, as a rookie second baseman in 1967, he was asked by then-Jimmy Fund executive director Bill Koster to fill in for another player at a meet-and-greet with a 12-year-old patient from Revere.
“One of our other players wasn’t able to come out, and Bill asked me, and I can remember saying yes but being a little miffed because it was so close to game time,’’ Andrews recalled.
“So I threw on my game jersey and went out and talked to the young boy. He was a great ballplayer and had to sit out a year of Little League and was really looking forward to getting back the next year.’’
So after posing for a photograph with the boy and wishing him well, Andrews recalled Koster turning to him to say, “I really appreciate you doing that. We just sent him home. There’s no more we can do for him. He’s not going to make it.’’
Andrews was jolted by the news, and that memory still stirs him to this day.
“It kind of gets your attention,’’ he said, choking back his emotions.
Andrews, now an honorary trustee of the Jimmy Fund, returned to Fenway to escort Karen Correnti, 57, of Medford, who was diagnosed at age 19 with Hodgkin’s disease and treated for nine weeks with radiation.
“She made a good pitch,’’ Andrews said. “She got it out there.’’
The fact that Jon Lester, a cancer survivor himself, was the recipient of Correnti’s throw was not lost on Andrews.
“I said to Karen, ‘Jon’s a survivor,’ and she said, ‘Oh, I know, he had the same thing I did,’ ” Andrews said. “Jon gave her a hug and signed her baseball.
“He’s very humble. When he had the bad year last year, I said I don’t worry about him, he’s got ‘it.’ He’s got the ‘it’ factor, and I’m really thinking he’s going to have a good year this year, because he’s that kind of guy.’’
That small scene was part of a larger affair punctuated by the a flyover of a pair of vintage P-51 Mustang airplanes and the debut performance of the Jimmy Fund Chorus, an all-volunteer choir made up of Dana-Farber patients, medical staff, friends, and family.
“They’ll be here for the Jimmy Fund Radio Telethon,’’ Fountain said. “And they’ll sing at the Series when they play the World Series here.’’
Such hopes certainly sprang up among fans Monday as the Red Sox defeated the Orioles, 3-1, but the real heroes were those cancer survivors who took the field, including Rudy Lombardi of North Providence, R.I., who, at 86, was the oldest participant.
Accompanied by his son David, 57, daughter Lorraine, 59, and two grandsons, Lombardi was escorted to the mound by Jim Rice and Dr. Robert Soiffert. He threw a strike.
“A slider,’’ chimed in David.
“What an honor,’’ said Lombardi, who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma at age 59 but has been cancer-free since 1987. “It’s something that I never expected, but I thank my doctor, Dr. Soiffert, who I’ve been with for almost 27 years, and I thank God that I’m here to talk about it.’’Michael Vega can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.