There were plenty of rousing ovations during Friday’s ceremonies commemorating Fenway Park’s 100th anniversary. Every player and coach who ever wore a Boston Red Sox uniform was invited. Some of the ovations could be seen coming a mile away (Pedro Martinez, Nomar Garciaparra, Carl Yastrzemski, Johnny Pesky), others were a little more peculiar (Jose Canseco? Seriously?) But perhaps the loudest ovation of all, the one arguably more deserving than any other, was the one that almost didn’t happen at all – the cheers for former manager Terry Francona.
Francona was sacked as manager after he lost control of both his team and his life in September 2011. He was vilified by Red Sox upper management and by some of the Boston press. He initially declined the invitation to partake in the ceremony, and understandably so after being scorned the way he was by the likes of team owner John Henry and president/CEO Larry Lucchino. But when the folks whose opinions matter the most – Red Sox Nation – got wind of this, they were not pleased. They wanted their beloved bald brother to come home 0nce more. And thanks to the outcry, Francona reversed stance.
As I sat in a local bar and watched the ceremony unfold on NESN, I eagerly awaited Tito’s presence. And once the familiar bald head and glasses emerged from the center field gate, I joined the bar’s patrons and the Fenway Faithful in giving him a proper thank you.
You could tell that Francona was moved. He didn’t play to the crowd like Pedro, and he didn’t shrug it off like Yaz. And while no one could top the emotion shown by Johnny Pesky that day, it was clear that Francona was emotional. This wasn’t the Boston that shoved him out of town and threw him under the bus. This is the real Boston. This is the Boston to whom he brought two World Series championships in four seasons after 86 heart-wrenching summers without one. This is the Boston that knew him as a charismatic, witty man with an astronomical baseball IQ.
This is why we wanted to see him. Because this is the Boston that finally got the chance to say, “Thank you, Tito.”