A deserved welcome home
Buckner receives warm reception from Fenway faithful
BOSTON -- As he wiped a tear away from his right eye, there was a lot going through Bill Buckner's mind as he made his way from the Green Monster to the pitcher's mound to throw out Tuesday's ceremonial first pitch at Fenway Park.
"[It was] probably about as emotional as it could get," Buckner said. "A lot of thoughts [were] going through my mind. I wish I didn't have to walk all the way from left field, too many things. But just good thoughts, which is a nice thing."
Buckner was cheered loudly as he threw a strike to former teammate Dwight Evans. In what was one of the most emotional first pitches in the 97th Opening Days at Fenway, the former Boston first baseman returned on the day the 2007 World Series champion Red Sox received their just rewards.
Most remembered for allowing Mookie Wilson's grounder to pass through his legs, leading to Ray Knight scoring the winning run for the Mets in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, a sellout crowd welcomed Buckner back with a long and rousing standing ovation.
After all these years, arguably a better way to put Buckner's body of work in perspective is to tip the cap at these numbers: 2,715 hits, a .289 career batting average, 1,208 RBIs, 1,077 runs scored, 498 doubles, 174 home runs, 450 walks drawn (he struck out just 453 times), a career fielding percentage of .991 and he played in the Major Leagues from 1970-90.
And Red Sox fans showed their appreciation after all these years, profoundly and loudly, with their unconditional applause on Tuesday at Fenway Park, embracing Buckner, a man who gave his all to get the job done for five organizations -- the Dodgers, Cubs, Red Sox, Angels and Royals -- that know more than a thing or two about competitiveness and class, historically and today.
Buckner made a return to the Red Sox in 1990, and he played in 22 games before retiring from baseball. Buckner made his first visit to Boston since September 1997, when he was at Fenway as a hitting coach with the White Sox.
While it will always be part of recorded history, this was not a day to focus on the past as the Red Sox, who, through team historian Dick Bresciani over the winter, extended the invitation to Buckner.
"I appreciate all the thought, that's the most important thing is the thought behind it," Buckner said. "It was hard to do, for me."
Then, in a media availability following his moment on the field, Buckner was asked if he had second thoughts.
"I had to..." and then Buckner began to well up again.
"I really had to forgive, not the fans of Boston, per se, but in my heart, I had to forgive the media for what they put me and my family through," he continued. "I've done that, and I'm over that and I'm just happy. And I just think of the positive and happy things like Dwight Evans and the guys in the front office when I came."
Part of the irony of Tuesday for Buckner was sitting among the media. His 23-year-old daughter, Christen, also a former softball player, was in Boston doing a story on her father for KTRV in Boise, Idaho.
"Occasionally, the good has outweighed the bad," Christen said.
Buckner believes Tuesday was just another step in the process of moving on.
"It was a great season and a lot of good memories, and I'm just happy I can focus on those," Buckner said, referring to 1986.
"I was with Bill this morning at the hotel," said Boston Celtics legend John Havlicek. "I thought he was a little pensive, a little [unsure] of what to expect. I was so glad it turned out so great. Because this guy, you look at his numbers were so outstanding. One play shouldn't make a career or someone think of you differently. It was an unfortunate act, but I'm so glad that this is past now. We can forget about it. He was a great player and an even greater person."
New England Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi agreed.
"I thought the ovation was incredible," Bruschi said. "You could see the emotion on his face. I don't know if it was cleansing or not. To see the ovation he received in this park, especially, it gave me a good feeling. I can imagine what it did for him."
Buckner felt just as good for the 2004 and '07 World Series champion Red Sox teams.
"I'm just so happy for them," Buckner said. "They're such a class organization now."
And, as Tuesday showed, Buckner will always be a part of it.
Mike Petraglia is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.