It was one of those days that 30 years from now, everyone will claim they were there. The official paid attendance for Opening Day at Fenway Park yesterday was 33,702, but in the decades to come, more than 10 times that number will swear they were on hand to see Pesky and Yaz raise the cherished World Series flag that symbolized the end of generations of heartache.
The Red Sox received their 2004 championship rings in an emotional pregame ceremony yesterday that included serenades from Keith Lockhart and the Pops, James Taylor and his guitar, and a ballpark teeming with grateful fans paying homage to their band of idiots. With a brilliant (yet chilly) sun shining overhead, former baseball greats Jim Lonborg, Dom DiMaggio, and Fred Lynn were among those who emerged from behind the left-field scoreboard to salute their brothers in arms. They walked alongside soldiers who served our country in Iraq, who were on hand to congratulate the men who brought them a welcome respite from the horrors of war.
The world champions called upon Bill Russell, Bobby Orr, Tedy Bruschi, and Richard Seymour to throw out ceremonial first pitches. Bruschi, in his first public appearance suffering a stroke in February, wore No. 47 in honor of fellow Arizona alum Terry Francona, who returned to the Sox' dugout for the first time since his hospitalization in New York last week with tightness in his chest.
After tossing a ball to the manager, the Patriots linebacker grabbed Francona, hugged him tightly, and wouldn't let go for almost a minute.
"It was probably a little more emotional than I wanted it to be," Francona said.
Bruschi, smiling broadly, then skipped gingerly down the dugout steps, accepting a handshake from Red Sox mascot Ben Affleck on his way out. He later released a statement that simply said, "I am feeling pretty good."
He wasn't the only one. Amid all the euphoria of acknowledging the most tremendous feat in Boston sports, the Red Sox managed to squeeze in an 8-1 victory over the Yankees. They got masterful pitching from Tim Wakefield, who retired nine of the first 10 batters and gave up just one unearned run through seven innings. The Red Sox banged out nine hits.
They upheld the spirit in which this afternoon began. It was a celebration that boasted red carpets, diamond rings, and the biggest names in sports, but, in the end, the glitz was not what any of the players remembered.
"For me, the biggest moment was when they dropped that big red championship banner over the entire left-field wall," said Sox spokesman and A-list celebrity Johnny Damon. "We had some grown men on our bench about to cry."
"I think the biggest thing was just seeing the emotion in Johnny Pesky's face," said captain Jason Varitek. "Pesky is around us so much. He's been here so long. He's carried the burden longer than anybody.
"It was almost something none of us ever talked about. The longer you were here, the more you understood that. But it's not even just him. It's the fans, too. How long they've agonized . . . how long they went hoping it was going to be different, only to have their heart broken.
"But now, finally, they didn't."
As far as productions go, this one had it all, including a gesture of genuine sportsmanship from their bitter rivals, the Yankees, who gathered en masse in the dugout and politely clapped throughout the ceremony.
"That's Joe Torre being Joe Torre," offered Sox pitcher Curt Schilling.
"Even though you certainly envy what's going on and you're a little jealous of it, you can't ignore it," said the ever-dignified Yankees skipper. "I think everybody was curious to see just what the Red Sox would do on the day they got their World Series rings."
Right you are, Joe. That's why decades from now, fans from Cotuit to Camden, Maine, will be sitting back in their rockers and reminiscing about how great Dewey Evans still looked, and how nice it was they had a moment of silence for the Pope and Dick Radatz. Even if they didn't see it in person, they will tell their grandkids they did.
It reminds me of that historic concert at the old Schaefer Stadium in 1976, when the Eagles were the headliner along with two lesser-known groups, Boz Scaggs and Fleetwood Mac. All three bands went on to have gold records, and by the time I was in college, every kid in my dorm claimed they were on hand for that legendary show.
Red Sox pitcher Matt Clement can relate.
"It was the Immaculate Reception where I came from," said Clement, who grew up in Butler, Pa., and was an avid Steelers fan. "I wasn't at the game, but as I got older, it seemed like everyone I talked to had tickets to the game."
Clement pitched for the Cubs last season, so he was merely a spectator yesterday. What struck him, he said, was the heartfelt ovation that Derek Lowe and Dave Roberts, two players who have moved on, received from fans, coaches, and players.
"It was awesome," Clement said. "I've been around these guys all through spring training until now, so I know how much this meant to them. For them to bring the other guys back, who poured out their heart and souls to the city, was pretty cool.
"It's something I really want to be a part of."
For the fans, being a part of yesterday's pageantry could well mean missing a mortgage payment or having the phone disconnected next month. Tickets were being scalped for thousands of dollars. The price of success -- particularly when it comes to this baseball team -- is never cheap.
Yet the gasp from the gathered loyalists was palpable when they unfurled that Schilling-blood-red banner proclaiming their team as the best in baseball.
"The whole day was incredible," said Damon. "To get your championship rings handed to you, then to beat the Yankees . . . it's too bad we have an offday [today] so we can't keep the momentum going."
The Sox and Yankees will meet again tomorrow on the same emerald lawn with the same left-field wall. The ticket prices undoubtedly will plummet now that the championship flag is ensconced, and those World Series rings have been whisked off to the nearest security box.
No matter. Even if you didn't make it to Fenway yesterday, feel free to say you were there.
Really now. Who will ever know?
Jackie MacMullan is a Globe columnist. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.