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Ceremony had the right ring

HEAVEN -- The sunny sky was light blue, legends of Red Sox past and present walked side by side, a sellout crowd of 33,702 booed the Yanks, rings of diamonds and rubies sparkled bright, the Red Sox won, and more than 85 years after Babe Ruth was ransomed to the Bronx, a World Series banner again was hoisted at Fenway Park yesterday. Maybe that isn't everyone's definition of the hereafter, but for fans of the Back Bay's baseball team, it's about as close as it's ever going to get.

Five-plus months after clinching their first World Series since 1918, the Red Sox reconvened on Yawkey Way for Home Opener 2005, with honored forefathers such as Bobby Doerr, Dom DiMaggio, Johnny Pesky, and Carl Yastrzemski on hand to share in the fun and splendor. The crowning moment came just before 3 p.m. when Pesky and Yastrzemski raised the 2004 World Series Championship banner on the flagpole in left-center field, surrounded by most of the members of the '04 team.

"I've never been in a situation like this before," noted veteran Sox outfielder Trot Nixon, summarizing the day after the 8-1 thumping of the Yankees. "I was just taking it all in -- as slow as possible."

"Oh, man, that was amazing," added center fielder Johnny Damon, the man who dubbed the Sox "a bunch of idiots" before the start of Boston's ALDS series last fall against the Angels. "Better than I envisioned."

The show began around 2:15 p.m. in 46-degree temperatures, with Sox broadcasters Joe Castiglione and Don Orsillo as co-masters of ceremony, manning microphones just a few feet behind home plate. In shallow center field, members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Boston Pops provided the background music for the one-hour ceremony.

As the band began to play, the first of five long, streaming red pennants was unfurled from the top the Green Monster, symbolizing the 1903 (pre-Fenway) World Series win. Then came 1912, 1915, 1916 and 1918, all cascading down from the Monster seats, left to right across the Wall. Moments after the '18 streamer dropped, a gargantuan "2004 World Series Champions" banner was unfurled, covering both the red banners and the entire Wall.

"I can't tell you the exact size," said team official Dr. Charles Steinberg. "But it's big -- uh, very big." Later in the ceremonies, a huge American flag, first unfurled at Fenway three years ago, became the Wall's showpiece. Steinberg said both flags will be stored for future use.

"No telling where we might use them again," he said. "Gosh, I mean . . . let the imagination run wild."

Fans, from Stockbridge to Boston and beyond, were treated to a James Taylor bit of patriotism. As the soft-rock legend began to sing, "O beautiful for spacious skies . . . For amber waves of grain," 19 members of the United States military, Army and Marine soldiers injured in Iraq, made their way across the field, slowly marching in from the Wall to the first base dugout. Two soldiers were in wheelchairs. Two had canes. The majority were from New England.

"A day these guys will never forget," said Worcester-born Mike Amaral, the US Army lieutenant colonel, who escorted the veterans to and from the ballyard. "What a great day for them. Every one of 'em was saying they'd be telling their grandkids about this someday."

Light chants of "USA . . . USA . . . USA" circulated through the crowd as the soliders made their way to the dugout, trading high-fives with the Sox players.

"We really wanted those guys here," said Steinberg, noting that many of the soldiers had met with the Sox following the club's recent visit to the White House and then the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. "They have the capacity to penetrate the souls of our players. The part where our guys came to the top step there and high-fived 'em -- that wasn't in the script. That was just emotion taking over."

According to one member of the Sox front office entourage, the original script for Opening Ceremonies was revised 21 times. No. 22 went off virtually without a hitch, except it ran 10 minutes longer than scheduled, until just before 3:15.

"The applause factor," conceded Steinberg. "You can't schedule that."

Perhaps the quirkiest moment of the proceedings came amid the rarest of all back-to-back moments of silence. The first was for the late Pope John Paul II, and the crowd stood nearly at pin-drop silence. A few seconds later, the crowd was prompted for another moment of silence in memory of great Sox reliever Dick Radatz, the Monster, who died March 16. The pope lived a totally spiritual life, and the pitcher lived a life of totally high spirits.

Just as the moment for Radatz was about to end, someone in the crowd boomed out, "A-Rod, you suck!" Castiglione promptly followed with a terse, "Thank you." One could only imagine the monstrous Radatz filling the ballpark with his deep, baritone laughs.

The rings, carried to the first base line by the members of the military, were handed out around 2:25 p.m. Club owner John W. Henry, surrounded by Larry Lucchino and Tom Werner, gave out the bling, each ring housed in a handsome wooden box about the size of a cigar box. The first ring went to skipper Terry Francona, recently discharged from Massachusetts General Hospital after a viral illness. Then came Ellis Burks, Tim Wakefield, Nixon, team captain Jason Varitek, and Derek Lowe (now a Dodger) . . . on and on until 47 rings were in the hands of their new owners. It went by seniority, years of service to Red Sox Nation, until it came time for Pesky to collect his at the very end. Years since Pesky first joined the Red Sox: 64.

The ever-gregarious Pesky sat quietly in the corner of a new interview room after the ceremonies, ruminating over his decades in a Sox uniform. Especially touching for the ex-infielder/manager/coach: the sight of the legendary Bobby Doerr and Dom DiMaggio.

"When Bobby and Dom walked out, I had to gulp," said Pesky. "My reaction . . . oh, I don't know, I wouldn't say it was childish, but I shed a tear when I saw those guys."

Pesky figured his old pal, the late Ted Williams, would have loved the day.

"He would have thought it was wonderful," Pesky said. "I thought a lot about him today -- Ted and Mr. Yawkey."

Jostens representatives Tim Larson and Ryan Ford were reluctant to reveal much about the rings, in terms of composition, appraised value, or cost. Though fashionable and weighty, the rings did not appear to be as gaudy as the '03 Florida Marlins rings that were valued at approximately $46,000. Jostens is a Minnesota-based corporation, but the rings were manufactured in Denton, Texas.

According to both Larson and Ford, the rings were shipped to Fenway early yesterday morning, making their way out of the company's Attleboro warehouse around 5:30 a.m. in a 10-car motorcade, which included five DHL vans escorted by five State Police cruisers (interesting budget item for Governor Mitt Romney, who was in the stands). There were the 47 rings awarded on the field, and an unspecified number given out to front officer members last night at a team banquet. Reached last night at the club's party, Steinberg said the club would make public the ring's specifications today.

The ceremony was topped off by legends Bill Russell and Bobby Orr, joined by Patriots stars Tedy Bruschi and Richard Seymour, tossing out a flurry of first pitches. Steinberg said the club especially hopes to include Russell, an infrequent visitor to Boston in his life after basketball, in more club-sponsored events.

"It took time and some conversation to get [Russell] here," said Steinberg. "He wanted to know our ownership's philosophies and ideals. He's a community activist, and I know we are eager to take that relationship forward."

Bruschi, recovering from a stroke, issued a two-paragraph statement that said he was honored to be part of the show and that he appreciated all the fans' well wishes. As for a medical update, he only added, "I am feeling pretty good."

Such was the theme of the day, here in hardball heaven.

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