BOSTON – Shallow right field at Fenway Park is normally a spot for players to warm up before a game, sprinting and stretching. But not Friday afternoon.
Chairs got in the way.
It wasn’t your normal day at the ballpark. The Boston Red Sox opened their home schedule with festivities fitting this city and the baseball team it adores.
Those chairs in the outfield were set out for two groups of musicians – the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra, dressed in their natty white dinner coats, and the Dropkick Murphys, in Boston jerseys and jeans and, in one instance, a kilt.
We heard the “Hymn to New England” and “Shipping Up to Boston.”
Eventually there would be baseball. But first the pageantry, the applause, a heavy dose of perspective and, of course, the bling.
The World Series rings were distributed to the players from last year’s team, honoring the world championship they won last October.
The rings, like a major league salary, are not for normal folk: 14-karat gold with 126 diamonds, 16 custom-cut sapphires and nine custom-cut rubies.
“I’ll wear it a couple of times,” first baseman Mike Napoli said. “People probably want to see it but I’ll (usually) keep it in my room.”
If the Red Sox wanted to add more meaning to their rings – and to the year of 2013 itself – they succeeded by inviting selected people affected by the Boston Marathon bombings to march the rings into Fenway. Victims, families of victims, and those who helped them, delivered the rings to the Red Sox owners standing at a table at first base.
They then walked over to the Boston dugout, where Red Sox players waited to greet them.
“A lot of special people,” Napoli said.
Players and staff then emerged from the dugout, one by one, to receive their ring, then walk out to center field.
There the Red Sox gathered around a rope and together raised the 2013 championship flag.
They hoisted it up a pole in center field, pulling it just below the American flag.
The capacity Fenway crowd cheered the flag, and how it ascended with every player’s contribution.
But the symbolism was not done.
It turned from fun to poignant.
Emerging from a gate in the center-field wall, Boston firemen from Engine 33 and Ladder 15 – colleagues of Edward Walsh and Michael Kennedy – joined the Red Sox at the rope.
Walsh and Kennedy were killed in a burning building last week. Their funerals were on the previous two days.
The firemen took hold of the rope in center field and slowly lowered the flags to half-staff.
“It was a roller coaster of emotions for me,” Red Sox catcher David Ross said. “It was nice to honor them.
“It’s what I love about Boston. The city comes together as a whole and roots for each other.”
Players and firemen began to walk off the field when players approached the real heroes, going down the line, greeting each one.
“We just wanted to shake their hands,” Ross said. “They were telling us good luck. That was the last thing I was thinking about. I told them I was sorry for their loss.
“It’s not easy to lose a teammate and that’s what they are – they work together as a team.”
A team that really matters.
There would be a somber moment of silence for Walsh and Kennedy, followed by the national anthem (cue the Pops and the Murphys).
Former Boston athletes and Boston mayors – past and present – threw out the first pitch.
Meanwhile those chairs were being cleared from right field.
It was time for baseball. A new season begins in Boston.
Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or: