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ON BASEBALL

Day should be a sparkler

Ring ceremony long-awaited

We do not doubt the show Dr. Charles Steinberg and his staff have planned for weeks will provide chills and thrills at the Fenway Park opener this afternoon. The Red Sox will receive their championship rings, in front of their adoring fans and in front of whichever Yankees are brave enough to watch.

The most storied franchise in sports history also fell victim to one of the biggest chokes in sports history last October when New York squandered a 3-0 lead in the American League Championship Series and lost four straight to the Red Sox.

Maybe the Yankees will watch so they never will forget. Maybe the ones who have won multiple rings -- Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Tino Martinez, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, manager Joe Torre -- will remember what it felt like.

There will be on hand a lot of celebrities, some of the authors of several of the 20 books now out on the Red Sox, former Sox, and even Derek Lowe was scheduled to fly here from Phoenix, where he pitched for the Dodgers yesterday against the Diamondbacks, setting aside for now his feelings about the Sox organization after it failed to re-sign him this offseason.

There'll likely be surprises -- perhaps people we never imagined would show up. And how big will the ovation be for manager Terry Francona when he's introduced?

The only manager to have won a championship in the lifetimes of most in Red Sox Nation, Francona not only will be honored for that accomplishment, but it will be his first public appearance since he recently was stricken with chest pains at Yankee Stadium. Francona spent parts of three days in hospitals in New York and Boston, having numerous tests that indicated the pain likely was caused by a viral illness.

Francona, much like Torre, has remained a regular guy -- something that is not a given from championship managers and coaches in sports. Because of that, fans have been able to better relate to and embrace Francona.

But the day will be just as much for the longtime and well-respected employees of the Red Sox. It'll be a great moment for folks like Charlie Wagner, Johnny Pesky, Dick Berardino, Tommy Harper, Jim Rice, Frank Malzone, Sam Mele (retired from the organization), Felix Maldonado, Dwight Evans, and Jim Rice, who have been around the organization for so long. Guys like Rico Petrocelli, Jim Lonborg, Carl Yastrzemski, and the many others who never won the Series.

A great moment for people behind the scenes like Joe Mooney, the longtime groundskeeper, ex-general manager Lou Gorman, whose 1986 team should have won it all, clubhouse guys Joe Cochran and Tommy McLaughlin, traveling secretary Jack McCormick, and Dick Bresciani, the team's vice president and historian, who has seen it all. Also, trainers Jim Rowe and Chris Correnti, senior vice president of Fenway affairs Larry Cancro, vice president Mike Port, video coordinator Billy Broadbent, and receptionist Molly Walsh.

If you're lucky enough to have tickets, you'll see refurbished concourses, new food courts. You'll see new sod on the field, and you won't see the state-of-the-art drainage system under the field.

Members of the Boston Pops and Boston Symphony are slated to play the national anthem, while the accompanying voices will be the 34,000-plus in attendance. There'll be a moment of silence for Pope John Paul II and one also for The Monster, Dick Radatz, who deserved to see this.

"It's their day," said Yankees reliever and former Red Sox closer Tom Gordon last week in New York. "They deserve to have a day where they honor themselves for what they did. Nobody has any problem with that. I don't know if I'll watch, but they're entitled to do whatever they need to do."

There was a time when Sox brass felt it should hold off the ring festivities for a time when a team other than the Yankees was in town. There was the thought of not "rubbing it in," but there was an overwhelming cry from fans to present the rings in front of the Yankees. While the Sox want the program to be tasteful and not disrespectful, many fans wouldn't be too out of sorts if there was a little smushing it in the Yankees' faces.

"I see nothing wrong with it," said Dennis `Oil Can" Boyd, who will be one of the alumni on hand. "This is [one of the teams] they beat to win it, isn't it? We're all big boys. The Yankees are big boys. They understand it. The Red Sox should celebrate and be mindful the Yankees are there -- but then they have to back it up."

Boyd said he feels honored to have been invited to take part in the ceremony. As of early last night he didn't know what was expected of him. But he said, "I'm so excited about this. I'd love to give out the rings to the players. I'd love to help raise that banner, man."

Boyd was asked if there was one ex-player he feels should be on hand.

"Bill Buckner. No doubt about that," he said. "This guy was a special player. I'm on record as saying how much I love the guy. I'd like to see Billy Buck get a standing ovation and people shaking his hand. Nobody hurt more than Bill Buckner [about his famous error in the Series loss in 1986]."

"Part of me feels our team should have been out there with a ring ceremony," Boyd said. "About two-thirds of that team have told me in their hearts they knew they should have won it all. But believe me, we're so happy about this team winning it. I think it cures a lot of pain."

The Yankees have had their moment in the sun over and over and over. Some of their fans had fun in New York last week when they put up a "2004+86=2090" sign, referring to their projected date of the next Red Sox World Series win.

There's no reason the Sox shouldn't revel in their success for one pregame, on one special day on the Fenway lawn, for the Yankees to see.

It's a day that will be remembered for all time, and the final day for this type of elation -- before last year must, indeed, become last year.

"There'll be people crying when they watch this," Boyd said. "Especially grandmas and grandpas who waited so long for this. There are people around here who have had heart attacks watching the Red Sox lose. People who have migraines trying to figure us out, man. People who have jumped off bridges. This isn't just baseball, man, this is life."

The two teams with the highest payrolls and the biggest stars, the Ali and Frazier of major league baseball, will be duking it out for the next six months just for the chance to meet again for American League supremacy. It was the Yankees who broke the Sox' soul in 2003 and the Red Sox who stole the Yankees' hearts in '04.

Now they meet again in a situation never before seen in this rivalry -- the Yankees chasing the Red Sox.

A ring ceremony at Fenway Park.

Imagine that.

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