10/14/08 9:05 PM ET
Nixon still a hit at Fenway
Former Sox outfielder receives warm welcome before Game 4
By Mark Remme / MLB.com
Nixon, the longtime Red Sox outfielder and fan favorite, obliged nearly every fan's request. Even though it's been two years since his final season in Boston, the 12-year vet and current member of the Mets was happy to be back at Fenway Park prior to Game 4 of the American League Championship Series against the Rays on Tuesday night.
"It feels great," Nixon said. "Heartfelt. Kind of emotional. ... When I look back on my career, it's going to be mostly the days I was in a Red Sox uniform. The best way to put it is I was spoiled in my professional career."
Nixon tossed the ceremonial first pitch before Game 4, a fitting gesture for a man revered by Red Sox Nation for his dedication to the organization for 10 years. Wearing his No. 7 uniform, he took the mound to a standing ovation and a cheering crowd.
Not that Nixon was surprised about his warm welcome back to New England. He seemed to realize that once you've shown Red Sox fans you respect the game, they'll take care of you along the way.
Given he batted .278 with 133 homers during his time in Boston, he seemed to hold up his end of the bargain.
"They'll want you to play the game, play the right way and play hard," he said. "And you'll see the rewards for it. It's an unbelievable fan base, but you've got to put up [production]."
Perhaps it was also fitting that Nixon threw out the first pitch Tuesday night given the Sox are trailing the Rays, 2-1, in the best-of-seven series. Nixon is all too familiar with Boston's slow starts during ALCS play.
He was on the team in 2004 when the Red Sox trailed, 3-0, to the New York Yankees, ultimately battling back to take the series in Game 7.
And Nixon was around in 2007 -- this time with Cleveland -- as the Indians took a 3-1 series lead only to lose a decisive Game 7 to the Red Sox.
Having been on both sides, Nixon understands the psyche of a strong Rays club nursing a lead against the veteran Red Sox. If 2004 is any indication, Nixon said the best advice is to not look at the big picture, but take it step by step.
He said catcher Jason Varitek gave a speech prior to Game 4 against the Yankees, saying it's impossible to win four games in one night. It's important, Varitek said, to break it down to nine innings and then down to pitch-by-pitch.
"Once you get one game, you get your fingers back on the side of that cliff," Nixon said. "Once you get two games, you've got both hands on the side of that cliff. That was a roller-coaster ride."
When he found himself in the Indians' clubhouse in 2007 up 3-1 and looking for that clinching win, Nixon knew it could be an interesting finish to the series.
"It was crazy. We were up, 3-1, and these guys had to beat CC [Sabathia] and [Fausto] Carmona, two of the best pitchers in the game that year other than Josh [Beckett]," he said. "And they did it, and once they won Game 5 and Game 6, and I said I guarantee you -- and I heard it later -- that Tek told that same speech about breaking it down."
The second time around, such a Red Sox comeback wasn't so gratifying for Nixon. Bittersweet, perhaps.
"Watching it unfold, I hated it for my teammates," Nixon said. "Obviously I wanted to play [for a title] with them. Most thought we would play for fourth in the division that year."
But what's done is done, and Nixon will be inside the ballpark as the Sox attempt to get back in the ALCS.
He won't be suited up, but he'll have a general idea what's going on inside each clubhouse.
No doubt, he'll be pulling for his friends still playing in Boston uniforms. As Varitek caught his ceremonial first pitch, a connection unfolded between Nixon and that 2004 team that made his lifelong ambitions come true.
"A dream of mine -- and I know [one] my dad had [for me] -- was to be part of a world championship team," Nixon said. "This organization has done great things for myself and my family, and we tried to give back as much as we can to the city while we were here."
Mark Remme is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.