BOSTON — They arrived, talking old times, and also seeing some of themselves in a recent Red Sox team.
There was Damon, Youk, Tek, Timlin and more.
And the biggest surprise of all: Manny being Prodigal Manny.
The 2004 world champion Red Sox returned Wednesday night to Fenway Park to celebrate the magic they sprinkled on this ballpark, this city and all of New England.
The team had not won a World Series since 1918. Players like Johnny Damon said that didn’t matter. “What did we care?” he said.
But Jason Varitek said the burden was there.
“When it was over you felt the relief,” Varitek said. “Maybe in your first year here you don’t know and understand. But the longer you’re here the heavier (the burden) is. The more you know.
“We kept presenting ourselves with opportunities. Every year was a little closer. Kept mix and matching, getting different components until it finally happened.”
Varitek, 42, retired as a Red Sox legend, but not all exited Boston so gracefully.
Manny Ramirez, the slugger who was the MVP of the 2004 World Series, returned to Fenway on Wednesday, asking for forgiveness.
By the time Ramirez forced a trade to the Dodgers in 2008, he had been accused of taking himself out of games, faking injuries and, worst of all, shoving a respected traveling secretary, Jack McCormick, to the ground when Ramirez didn’t get as many tickets as he wanted.
“I spoke to Jack. I apologized to Jack,” Ramirez said. “I said ‘Jack, I want you to forgive me. It was my fault.’
“He said ‘Manny, thanks, I was waiting for that.’
“I really realized I behaved badly … with the organization and with my teammates … I apologized for that.”
Ramirez walked into a pre-game gathering of media, looking peaceful and sporting a Mohawk – “my little (boy) had one so I decided to get one.”
Ramirez, who turns 42 on Friday, said he’s a changed person, evidenced by his new job as a player-coach in Iowa with the Chicago Cubs’ Triple-A team. The Cubs’ president is the former Red Sox general manager, Theo Epstein.
“I felt great the way everything turned out, just for (Epstein) to think about it,” Ramirez said “To help young guys is a blessing.”
Ramirez credited his change to finding religion – a discovery after Ramirez was arrested three years ago, charged with battery in a domestic dispute.
“When I went to jail with the problem with my wife, they didn’t let me see my kids for two or three months,” Ramirez said. “One day I wake up and look myself in the mirror and say I need a change.
“I’m going to Bible studies and I saw they were good. God helped me to change my life. My wife and I go to church.”
Even with his questionable behavior with the team, Ramirez’s bat was invaluable, not only protecting David Ortiz in front of him but crushing the ball himself.
“One of the most dominant right-handed hitting outfielders in the last 30 years,” Varitek said. “We wouldn’t have accomplished what we did in ’04 without Manny in our lineup.”
As for the off-field issues, Varitek said, “We’re all men. Nobody’s perfect. I can’t speak for Manny but people make mistakes.”
Ramirez and Ortiz were the big bats in 2004.
“We had some All-Star guys,” reliever Mike Timlin said. “But we also did not have (a lot of) All-Star guys.
“For whatever reason the guys they brought together – taking the 2003 team and adding a few more – it was just the right mixture.”
Timlin and Varitek saw similarities in the 2013 World Series champions.
“Guys were stepping in at the right time,” Timlin said. “They weren’t folding under pressure. That was true for that (2013) team and for our team, also.”
Varitek, who works with the Red Sox, said “there was a uniqueness in that (2013) team that we had … The joy for the game, the attention to detail, and also the enjoyment for their teammates – the chemistry fell into place.”
But what about this 2014 team? Can it bring back that winning mix?
“You have to be able to tap into it and find it at the right time,” Timlin said. “It’s there. They know it’s there. That’s probably why they’re so frustrated because it’s not coming out.
“It will eventually come to the surface. Hopefully it comes soon.”
It came soon enough in 2004 for Kevin Youkilis, who reached the majors that year after spending much of 2003 with the Portland Sea Dogs.
“It was amazing,” Youkilis said. “I was a rookie and just happy to be in the big leagues.
“I went along for the ride and these guys showed me one of the most amazing rides in the history of Boston. … It changed my life dramatically.”
For others, like Ramirez, the change came later.
He still talks about playing baseball. He might bat in two games a week with Iowa, but he’s hoping to play in the majors again. But Ramirez did not come back to Boston to talk only baseball. He had an announcement to make.
“I’m a new man,” he said.
Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or at: