As I’ve written about in the last couple of posts, D and I were at Fenway’s opening Day this year. Before the game started, I saw one of the greatest acts of reconciliation that I have witnessed since I have been living in Boston. The first pitch was scheduled to be thrown out by a surprise guest. As we waited for the game, my friends and I had been trying to predict who it would be. We thought about several celebrities and political figures. For some reason we never thought about former Red Sox players. When it was time for the first pitch, it was no random celebrity that walked on the field, nor was it just another former player of old. To everyone’s surprise, Bill Buckner walked out onto the field. I remember the announcer’s voice growing with intensity as he gave the introduction. As Buckner’s name was finally announced, the stadium erupted in applause. I was really shocked and delighted by this.
I didn’t grow up in Boston, but I lived here before the Sox won their first World Series in 86 years. Living here before the ’04 season was a bit different than it is now. The devotion to the Red Sox was still unreal, even in the face of losing year after year (even under sometimes bizarre circumstances). One of those circumstances occurred in the 1986 World Series. In extra innings, the game had been tied on a wild pitch. All the Red Sox needed was to get out of the inning and hang on for a win and they would once again be the World Champions. Of course, that’s not at all what happened. Buckner completely missed a routine ground ball at first. To add injury to insult, it was a slow rolling ground ball that, to the dismay of everyone, went through his legs and bounced off the bag. The winning run scored for the Mets and the game was over. The Mets came back in game 7 and won the series.
Poor Buckner has been known for that one missed grounder ever since. Sadly, he had been a fantastic player all the way up to this. A lot of credit was given to him for the Sox winning the American League Championship Series. But the guy was demonized for making one mistake that led to a devastating loss. There were even death threats. Even 15 years later, people were talking about that one play as if it had happened the day before. I explain all of this to put what happened on Opening Day into perspective.
As Buckner’s name was announced, Fenway roared not with jeers and insults, but applause. Not just a cordial applause…a several minute standing ovation. The announcer had to come on and move things along to quieten the crowd so that Bill could throw out the first pitch (which was a strike). I have been thinking back to Bill’s walk from left field to the infield to thundering applause. I saw the tears began to stream down his face. It was very moving. I have never seen this kind of reconciliation and acceptance among Red Sox fans. Usually, once you’re out, you’re out. All it takes to prove this point is for the formerly beloved Johnny Damon, now Yankee player, to come up in conversation. There are no kind words there. Just when you thought the applause would end, another round would stir the stadium. This continued even after the pitch. It only took 22 years and, as a friend pointed out, TWO World Series victories (not just one). Even though I did not grow up following the heart-braking losses of the Red Sox year after year as a kid, I have been a fan long enough to know that I will not forget what I saw that day.