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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

At Fenway, a TGIF opener

The last time they played here, most of the Red Sox were bald and they were en route to Yankee Stadium for a fateful date with destiny.

Today, they return to their old home with two new, high-priced pitchers and a center fielder who looks as if he's auditioning for the lead in "Jesus Christ Superstar."

Good Friday, indeed.

The Red Sox meet the Toronto Blue Jays at 3:05 this afternoon in the 93d Fenway Park Opening Day. Patriots owner Bob Kraft will throw out the first ball and Tom Brady should be on hand (direct from the Vatican, to continue with our holy holiday theme) as the Sox pay tribute to the Super Bowl champs for the second time in three seasons.

The ballpark looks better than ever and you'll be happy to know there's no physical evidence of the 2003 World Series logo that was branded into the sod behind the plate on the afternoon of Oct. 16, just hours before the Sox and Yankees played Game 7 in the Bronx. An Opening Day logo has replaced the presumptuous emblem that certainly jinxed the Sox in New York last autumn. According to groundskeeper Dave Mellor, the sacrilegious sod was shredded days after the flameout in the Bronx. They could have at least rolled it up and sent it to Pinehurst, N.C., where Grady Little could have patched it into his backyard. And just think of what it would have fetched on eBay.

The Fenway field -- a blend of Kentucky blue grass and perennial rye -- looks pretty good, although players might get some green dye on the heels of their spikes. According to Mellor, the Fenway lawn froze 40 inches deep during the brutal winter.

There'll be no shortage of Sox legends on hand. The reclusive Carl Yastrzemski will join Jim Rice, Dwight Evans, Jim Lonborg, Johnny Pesky, Bruce Hurst, Dennis Eckersley, Luis Tiant, Rich Gedman, and others in pregame ceremonies. Look for 91-year-old Charlie Wagner to make the ceremonial "play ball" announcement. Fourteen-year-old John Castillo of the Perkins School for the Blind will sing the "The Star-Spangled Banner." Boston Irish tenor John McDermott will sing the Canadian anthem. Governor Mitt Romney will be drinking vanilla cokes in the lower boxes.

Fenway patrons will notice three significant changes in and around the ancient yard. Most obvious is the new right-field roof section that will seat 400 fans high atop the grandstand beyond the foul pole. The Shawmut Design and Construction Company started building the upstairs pavilion in December and they were up there when it was below zero in January. As a reward, the Sox are putting the workers in the new seats for today's game. The guys finally get to have a well-deserved beer.

"You build it, you get to sit in it first," said Dr. Charles Steinberg, Sox vice president in charge of everything who wears his Cecil B. DeMille hat whenever there's a special event at the yard.

Another major change for fans is an expanded concourse with new bathrooms under the third base/left-field grandstand. The Sox have painted the original Jimmy Fund billboard sign on the wall of the concourse. Shawmut super Peter Fantoni and his crew were working overnight to put the finishing touches on the new space. Today, they rest. Up on the roof.

Fans arriving from the Boylston Street side will see new trees and old-timey lamp posts on the ever-ugly Van Ness Street where many of the players' cars are parked during the game.

The Sox won't acknowledge it, but it's increasingly apparent there's no plan to leave Fenway. Ever. You don't spend this kind of money on improvements unless you're sticking around. The incredible coziness between the team and the mayor (I believe Terry Francona's lineup card goes to Tom Menino before it's posted on the dugout wall) makes it easier for the Sox to stay. The mayor's effectively giving the ball club property rights to all the streets around the yard.

This Red Sox administration (partially owned by The New York Times Co., which owns the Globe) is appreciative of the pocket-emptying fan base. There seems to be a boundless appetite for the Red Sox, which is why a day at Fenway costs a family of four a whopping $263 -- $70 more than the next-highest team (Cubs).

Doesn't matter. Fans line up to shell out their dough. If you build Green Monster Seats, they will come (95,000 fans registered online for the opportunity to sit there). If you build a right-field rooftop section, they will come. If you sign Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke in the offseason, they will come.

And if you have crummy weather and play your first home game on a Good Friday, they will come. No separation of church and state at Fenway. Opening Day is a holy day of obligation in Red Sox Nation.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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