Dan Shaughnessy

They strayed far but are safely back at their base

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / April 8, 2008

Bet they tried to call room service when they rolled out of their own beds in their own homes yesterday morning. Bet they looked for USA Today on the floor outside the bedroom door, then threw used towels on the bathroom floor.

It's tough to lose those hotel instincts when you've been around the world in 19 days, but the Red Sox are indeed finally safe at home after their historic spring odyssey from Fort Myers to Chicago, Tokyo, Los Angeles, Oakland, and Toronto.

With a 3-4 record and a lot of foreign currency in their pockets, the Red Sox return to Fenway Park this afternoon to collect their 2007 championship rings and play the Detroit Tigers in the franchise's 108th home opener.

This is the 97th Opening Day for Fenway Park, and fans will notice new tiers of permanent seats along the upper-deck baselines. Alas, the Coke bottles are gone - which will cause some to wonder whether the "new" owners, now in their seventh season on Yawkey Way, have any respect for time-honored tradition.

A legion of hard hats and grounds crew members has been working virtually 'round the clock since the Sox defeated the Colorado Rockies, 2-1, last Oct. 25, and they were hammering, welding, and mowing as a handful of weary ballplayers arrived to unpack stuff yesterday.

There was no official workout, but today's starter, Daisuke Matsuzaka (when is the last time a pitcher started three of a team's first eight games?), stepped on the Fenway lawn just after 11 a.m and commenced running in the outfield. On his way to the clubhouse, Dice-K stopped by the mound and rehearsed his pitching motion from the carpet-covered hill. Groundskeepers continued to water the grass while Matsuzaka pretended to pitch.

Kevin Youkilis, Clay Buchholz, Dustin Pedroia, Josh Beckett, Julian Tavarez, and Jacoby Ellsbury were among those who came to the park to recover baggage they'd left behind in Florida March 19. Along with the bags, they discovered a better-lit clubhouse with exposed brick and a higher ceiling. The Sox' home office doesn't have any new elbow room, but it seems more spacious because architect Janet Marie Smith literally raised the roof.

The Nomar Garciaparra Line of Death - a red stripe embedded into the clubhouse carpet (reporters were not allowed to cross) - is gone. The crimson line lasted 3 1/2 seasons longer than Nomar but went out with the old carpet and has not been replicated in the new rug.

"It's good to come home and set your place up," said Pedroia.

"It was a long trip, but it was fun, a great experience," added Ellsbury. "Now we all need to unpack and get situated.

"I'm real tired. I just got up 20 minutes ago [he said this at 12:45 p.m.]. I don't know what time I'm on, but every day I'm feeling a little bit better."

There was plenty of teeth-gnashing and low-level grumbling when the Sox wrapped up their 16,000-mile trek with three straight losses in Toronto Sunday, but at this early hour, the Sox are living in the complaint-free zone.

"No more excuses about that," said Pedroia.

"Toronto just outplayed us," added Terry Francona. "They did everything better than we did."

The Sox manager went on to point out that his team's flaws tend to be exaggerated when the hitting stops.

"We're not going to have David Ortiz stealing second base," said Tito. "We're big and sometimes slow. That's the way we're constructed."

They are also favored to win the World Series for the third time in five years, and today's ring ceremony will remind everyone how good it was around here in the final two weeks of October.

"We deserved it," Pedroia said proudly. "We were the best team all year and we proved it at the end."

"I think I'll enjoy watching our players get their rings," said Francona. "There's no doubt there'll be a lot of emotion. The fans and the energy in the ballpark will go a long way."

The 2008 Red Sox are the most introduced team in baseball history. They were feted in Tokyo and took part in Opening Day festivities in Oakland and Toronto. Dr. Charles Steinberg spared them the intros when they played in front of the largest crowd in baseball history (115,300) at the Los Angeles Coliseum, but the Sox' spring of '08 has been long on miles and ceremonies, and thus far short on victories.

Finally, they are home for their Fenway feast. It's an official New England holiday. School will be skipped, employees will punch out early, and World Series rings will be served for lunch.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at

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