10/28/2004 11:36 AM ET
Sox return home to joyous faithful
Victory parade expected to draw 5 million on Saturday
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
|Red Sox fans cheer as their 2004 World Series champs return to Fenway Park on Thursday. (Adam Hunger/AP)
BOSTON -- The Thursday sun slowly made its way over the horizon southeast of Kenmore Square, glistening off the chain-link fencing surrounding Fenway Park.
A new day in Boston, a new age in Red Sox Nation.
Hundreds of Red Sox Nationalists pushed up against railings aligned along Yawkey Way, remnants of Wednesday night's World Series championship celebratory throngs. They had never left, continuing their vigil in near-freezing temperatures, awaiting their heroes' homecoming.
In the place where 227 years ago the cry was "The Redcoats are coming!" the buzz was "The Red Sox are coming!"
The Boston Red Sox, hours into their reign as kings of the baseball world, were on their way back from St. Louis into the embrace of their extended family.
The large banner held aloft above the early-morning crowd told the depth and breadth of the yearning the Red Sox had satisfied: "Our (late) Parents and G-Parents thank you."
Steam from cups of coffee and puffs of breaths hovered over the surrealistic scene. People broke into excited applause at the sight of any approaching vehicle.
The crowd became extremely animated as two busliners made their slow way to the mouth of the entrance to the players' parking lot. But this vanguard of the triumphant return merely included team staff members treated to the St. Louis portion of the World Series by Red Sox ownership.
As a hirsute, bearded young man exited one of the buses, some in the crowd shouted, "Hey, Johnny D." The young man waved his arms and mugged, playing along with the Johnny Damon reference.
Businessmen and women peered down from the upper windows of the office building across the street from Fenway Park. Team staffers and police hustled feverishly to arrange railings around the parking lot just right, assuring safe passage for arriving team personnel but also clear vantage points for the dozens of camera crews poised to document the event.
Steve Safron, of the New England Cable News network, set the stage for his audience, signing off with, "I've been out here all night and I'm numb. I can't feel my hands. But I don't care because I can say this: 'We're waiting for the world champion Boston Red Sox.' Now I can retire from journalism."
Word arrived: "The Red Sox have landed at Logan International Airport." Estimated time of arrival, with a police escort: 20 minutes.
"I'm so happy for the people of Boston and so pleased for former players like Johnny Pesky, Jim Rice and Ted Williams."
-- Johnny Damon
The crowd waited patiently. It was a quiet epilogue to the night's revelry in the area, which escalated to the point 35 people were arrested and 44 had to be treated for injuries.
"The Red Sox are boarding their buses. They're on the way."
Merely 150 feet to the east, Thursday-morning life proceded at its normal pace. A passerby inquired about the milling crowd, and said wide-eyed in reaction to the answer, "They're coming back already? They're gonna drive by right here?" Then he took off in a huff, calling excitedly over his shoulder, "I'm gonna get my camera for this."
A few minutes later, a phalanx of police motorcycles, lights strobing, snaked its way onto Landsdowne Street, followed by six buses. The waiting crowd burst into New England's newest form of communication: Applause for the Red Sox.
The buses quickly rolled to a stop along the curb abutting Fenway Park, honking as a form of fanfare. All six doors flung open simultaneously and weary, but overjoyed, Red Sox spilled onto the sidewalk.
First off bus No. 3 was Red Sox elder statesman Ellis Burks, clutching the World Series Trophy he waved to the crowd.
Several players, including Mike Timlin, debarked holding video cameras, shooting the shooters.
The real Johnny Damon, clearly worn out, his voice hoarse from a night of victory yells, checked out the crowd and said, "Everyone has rooted for the Red Sox all these years, and I'm so very happy for all of them."
Damon also delivered two revelations. He is getting married. And he will be getting another haircut, again for a good cause, proceeds this time going to Melbourne, Fla., Tim Wakefield's hometown reeling from the recent siege of hurricanes.
"I'm so happy for the people of Boston," Damon reiterated, "and so pleased for former players like Johnny Pesky, Jim Rice and Ted Williams."
At the other edge of the scene, Pedro Martinez climbed aboard the hood of a van to wave at the fans congregated at that spot. After a few minutes, he withdrew into the parking lot and joined his teammates' exodus to their homes and much-needed sleep.
Standing amid the slow-moving cars driving off, Red Sox principal owner John Henry said with a nod toward the crowd, "We've brought this home for them. They've waited their entire lives for this, always saying with hope, 'This is the year.' Well, this is the year.
"It's like a dream come true. We accomplished our goals for this year," added Henry, who has lived a life full of achievements. "But nothing comes close to this."
Next comes the victory parade, which originally had been anticipated for Friday but now is expected to be delayed until Saturday to afford more time to prepare for its immense scope. Some police estimates peg the anticipated crowd for the parade at 5 million people -- which would be nearly 10 times the population of Boston.
But, of course, Red Sox Nation doesn't stop at the state border.
"I can't imagine what the parade will be like," Henry said, "but we got a preview this morning coming in from the airport. We had the police escort, and people were getting out of their cars to wave. It was a release of sheer joy."
And it was not joy over a moment, a week or an event. A recurring sentiment heard all over town since 11:40 p.m. Wednesday night has been, "This is the best day of my life."
That, and the simple "thank you." For rewarding a lifetime of expectancy, for bonding people in memory with long-lost loved ones, for proving the merits of never giving up the fight.
Henry said, "When the situation looks bleak, coaches will be telling kids for 10, 20, 40 years, 'Remember the 2004 Red Sox.'"
The 2004 Red Sox have been big on branding. The "Why Not Us?" bunch. The "Believe" bunch. And, of course, Idiots, Inc.
Club president Larry Lucchino offered his own brand: "This Band of Brothers will continue to be an inspiration for people down on their luck. If you are facing some adversity in your life, maybe recalling the lesson of this team will help you get through it."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.