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04/20/12 7:00 PM ET

Return of 'family' sparks emotions at Fenway

BOSTON -- The loudest ovations on Friday at Fenway Park were not hard to pick out: Terry Francona, Pedro Martinez, Nomar Garciaparra, Johnny Pesky, Carl Yastrzemski. Francona's cheers sounded like a Learjet, as Kevin Millar put it. They cropped up again in the ninth inning of a 6-2 loss to the Yankees, with chants of "We want Tito." Both those acknowledgments mattered, but only briefly.

Unlike Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek's return for this season's home opener in Boston, everything on Friday -- the day of Fenway's 100th birthday -- was about the collective.

"It's the baseball land of Oz," manager Bobby Valentine said. "People dream about this place."

About an hour before the Yankees and Red Sox met for the first time this season, 212 Sox alumni walked on to the field and the afternoon sun at Fenway, introduced one by one. Some came from center field, and others from the first- and third-base sides before taking the positions for which they were best known.

"We were actually in a holding room some place -- I think across the street," said Bruce Hurst, the left-hander who won 88 games with the Sox from 1980-88. "I guess it was like kind of the ultimate ... class reunion/family reunion. There were guys that I hadn't seen in probably 30-some-odd years. Get caught up, and I just, the more you get to talk, reminisce, really, there aren't words. It was emotional for a lot of us. It was for me walking on the field, just the reception, the memories."


Every player was introduced individually, and it didn't matter if they were Red Sox lifers, like Jim Rice, or those who spent just one season here, like Mike Stenhouse. They're a part of the history of the ballpark, which hosted its first official game on April 20, 1912, a 7-6 win for the Sox over the Highlanders, the predecessor to the Yankees.

Last to come on the field were Bobby Doerr and Johnny Pesky, both in wheelchairs, guided by Wakefield (Doerr) and Varitek (Pesky), with David Ortiz walking between them. Doerr and Pesky took up positions at second base, where everyone gathered shortly after.

The current Sox took the field as well, shaking the hands of those who came before them.

"No matter what, where you're from, it doesn't matter where you live -- it's like family," Millar said. "You start flying in. It looks like you're landing on the water at Logan [Airport]. You're scared to death, because finally, the concrete comes, but when you land here, this is like a second home. I think Pedro can attest to that. It's just a family feel."

Authenticity was in full effect, with the alumni wearing jerseys representative of the era in which they played. All living Red Sox players and coaches whom the team could track down were invited to participate in the ceremony.

The first pitch was thrown out just as it used to be, from the stands. Two of the three folks who had the honor were Caroline Kennedy and Thomas Fitzgerald. The former is the great-granddaughter and the latter the grandson of John "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald, the Boston Mayor in 1912 who threw out the first pitch at the inaugural Fenway Park game. The third to throw out the pitch was, of course, current Boston Mayor Thomas Menino.

"Only baseball could produce what you saw here today," Commissioner Allan H. (Bud) Selig said in an interview while visiting the NESN broadcast booth. "And that makes it so special for me and everybody else. It's been a great day."

Last but not least came the grape juice. The Red Sox left a cup and a container of juice at every seat, and the ceremony closed with a toast led by Martinez and Millar, the former again looking into the identity of Karim Garcia, the latter reviving his "Cowboy Up!" catchphrase from 2004.

The national anthem was handled by the Boston Pops, who were also led by one of the world's most famous conductors, Pops laureate John Williams, in the premiere of his new "Fanfare for Fenway." A World War II-era plane was a part of the flyover.

And then the Red Sox and Yankees got back to baseball's most famous rivalry.

"Fenway has a way that you can't find it anywhere else," Martinez said. "You might find it in Chicago, with a little bit of tradition. But when it comes to Fenway, there's nothing you can compare it to. I have been in many other fields and I have been all around the leagues, played in the National League, too. Even the old Yankee Stadium, there's nothing that can be compared to Fenway."

Evan Drellich is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @EvanDrellich. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.