Dan Shaughnessy

Legends enhance new day

Red Sox christen yet another first

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / March 5, 2012
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FORT MYERS, Fla. - Our fathers had Dominic DiMaggio, Bobby Doerr, Johnny Pesky, and Ted Williams; the greatest ballplayers for the Greatest Generation, “The Teammates’’ who stand together forever in bronze outside Fenway Park’s Gate B on Van Ness Street.

New England baby boomers have Luis Tiant, Dwight Evans, Jim Rice, and Carl Yastrzemski; heroes of 1967, ’75, and ’86. Sunday we saw them emerge from behind the green door in the left field wall of Fenway South, like celluloid ghosts stepping from a corn field onto the warning track.

It was not heaven, not Iowa. It was JetBlue Park at Fenway South. The final grand opening.

We think.

The Red Sox’ spring crib already has had more soft openings than your average Back Bay bistro. Fantasy leaguers played games here three weeks ago with almost no one in attendance. The official JetBlue ribbon cutting ceremony was Feb. 25 when John Henry stopped off on his way to a big soccer match the next day in London. Two days ago, we had the first Red Sox “game,’’ a seven-inning, 25-0 clobbering of Northeastern. Saturday night featured the first television game, when the Sox’ 6-3 win over Boston College was beamed back to the Hub on NESN. Soft openings, one and all.

Sunday’s opening was the real deal. And it was clear that maestro Dr. Charles Steinberg - the man who brought you the Cowsills and Irish stepdancers on Fenway’s outfield grass - was back from his four-year sabbatical with the Dodgers and Uncle Bud Selig.

Dr. Charles gave us Paul McCartney’s “Jet’’ over the public address system, Wally the Green Monster, a giant American flag, the Gulf Coast Symphony, Hooters girls in their orange shorts, seven ceremonial first pitches, and Fort Myers native Mike Greenwell announcing “Play ball!’’ The baseball team did its part with an 8-3 victory over the Minnesota Twins, a game that featured two shutout innings by 2011 bad boy Josh Beckett.

But for most Sox fans, the highlight of the day was the Fenway legends walking in from left field in their vintage white Red Sox uniform tops.

One by one, they appeared. No. 23, then No. 24, then No. 14, and finally . . . No. 8. They handed baseballs to the Fort Myers big shots who helped build Fenway South. Then the Fenway gods walked toward the Red Sox dugout. Dustin Pedroia made a point of shaking Yastrzemski’s hand before taking his place at second base. Bobby Valentine and Jacoby Ellsbury also interacted with Yaz. Smart fellows. A moment with Yaz is Boston baseball’s Papal visit.

Yaz doesn’t make many appearances. He threw out ceremonial first pitches before World Series games in 2004 and 2007 and was summoned to save the Red Sox’ season after last spring’s 0-6 start in Texas and Cleveland.

That was great stuff. Theo Epstein gave the boys a pep talk, then Yaz threw out a first pitch to Jason Varitek (captain to captain) and walked off the field to the tune of “Oh, Happy Day’’ by the Edwin Hawkins Singers. It was a happy day. The Sox beat the Yankees, 9-6. The winning pitcher was John Lackey.

It was not a happy season. And when the Fall of Saigon was complete . . . after those fateful final hours at Camden Yards . . . after all the stuff came out about chicken and beer . . . after Terry Francona was fired and Epstein left for Chicago . . . the whipping boy was Beckett.

Beckett said nothing about any of it until this spring, when he finally admitted, “I had lapses in judgment,’’ and “mistakes were made.’’ He acknowledged that he might have gained a few pounds during the 2011 season. Days later he complained to a reporter about “snitches’’ in the clubhouse.

Yesterday, Beckett finally was back on the mound. He gave up a single to Ben Revere to start the game. He walked a pair of batters in the second. All three Twins who reached first attempted to steal. Two made it, one was caught by Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Beckett threw 36 pitches, 18 strikes (incredibly, stolen bases are sponsored and announced to the crowd: “That stolen base brought to you by . . . ’’). According to one scout behind the screen, Beckett topped out at 90 miles per hour on the radar gun.

Beckett was asked a bunch of questions about no longer having Varitek, his personal catcher. (“Is everybody writing the same story?’’ asked the hurler.) He seemed to be OK with Salty.

“If you play this game long enough, some of your guys are going to retire,’’ he said.

Beckett said he was working on his changeup. He said it was nice to get back out there. He said JetBlue Park was a “pretty awesome place.’’

He was inches from a clean getaway when a reporter asked about “winning back the fans’’ and “making amends.’’ The reporter cited an Internet video of Beckett tossing a baseball to a young fan.

“We definitely have to win the trust back of the fans,’’ he said. “But I’ve done that [toss a ball to a fan] every start of my whole professional career.’’

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