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They'll ring in new year

Ceremony slated for home opener

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- At long last Red Sox management reached the decision the aroused fandom hoped it would. World Series rings will be issued to players and coaches prior to the home opener April 11 against the Yankees, scheduled for 3:05 p.m.

However, that will be just one of three ring-related events. In addition, the rings will be at the center of the Red Sox Foundation Welcome Home Dinner the night of April 11. Then, the following day -- an offday for the team -- an undetermined number of rings will be displayed at Fenway Park for fan viewing. The club intends to charge a nominal fee, probably $5, which will benefit the foundation.

"Let me know if Red Sox Nation rejoices," said Charles Steinberg, the team's executive vice president/public affairs.

Steinberg, the Sox' big-event organizer, sparked the ring-gate controversy last week by saying the Sox were considering alternatives to issuing rings at the home opener. That prompted fan outrage.

"Public reaction was a factor we considered," said team president/CEO Larry Lucchino. "But there was no previous decision made."

The decision was reached Tuesday night, when Lucchino and Steinberg met with principal owner John W. Henry, chairman Tom Werner, and others.

"All it took was for us to be in one room together," Steinberg said.

Lucchino called the final plans a "Steinbergian solution. It covered a lot of bases. It allows regular fans who may not have tickets to see the rings" and "allows us to keep with what is perceived as baseball tradition."

The team will issue 500 rings, according to the company making them, Minneapolis-based Jostens. Lucchino said general manager Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona "were responsible for identifying players who would be recipients. They took a broad view. Everyone who wore that uniform should be included."

Therefore, Nomar Garciaparra (who was traded July 31) and Abe Alvarez (who pitched in one game) will receive rings.

Lucchino said the team will "try to find some meaningful way to distribute rings" to players who have departed the club, such as Garciaparra and Pedro Martinez.

The rings will be white gold. The "B" will be made of rubies. Each ring will include the recipient's name. Rings issued to players and coaches will be the same design as those issued to off-field team employees. The only difference will be in the size.

Lucchino, asked about issuing the rings in front of the Yankees, acknowledged "some special relish."

In Tampa, Yankees captain Derek Jeter said he didn't mind that his team would be present for the ring ceremony.

"I'm sure I'm not going to help them hand them out," Jeter said, according to the Associated Press. "But they deserve it. I'm sure they've been looking forward to this for a long time. So let them do it."

They go way back
Inundated with questions about David Wells's curious past, Francona yesterday sought to quiet such talk.

"In my book," the Sox manager said, "last week was the first day of his baseball life."

Interestingly, Francona's recollections of Wells go back almost to the beginning of the lefthander's professional career. Playing winter ball for Maracaibo in Venezuela in either 1986 or 1987, Francona faced Wells, who pitched for Barquisimeto, the Sox skipper said.

Asked how he fared, Francona said: "I don't think great. I don't honestly remember. But I remember thinking, `Wow, this guy's got a chance to be pretty good.' "

Francona turns 46 April 22, while Wells turns 42 May 20. Francona said he doesn't believe he's played with or against anyone else in Sox camp. A first-round pick in 1980, Francona retired in 1991.

Silent treatment
Lucchino confirmed what was already believed: Epstein and/or Francona told the players to tone down the shots they've been taking at Alex Rodriguez. "I was a little surprised by [the sniping]," Lucchino said. "I'm glad Tito Francona has declared an end to that. Theo has also." Asked if that was hypocritical, since he began the Yankee hating with the Evil Empire remark, Lucchino said, "I didn't start it. I just poured a can of kerosene on the fire." . . . The Sox, scheduled to visit the White House Wednesday, will bring only those players who were on the team last season. Departed Red Sox such as Martinez would be welcome as well. "Their current employer might feel otherwise," Lucchino acknowledged. "But we'd love to have them." . . . Francona, on the Sox' top prospect, shortstop Hanley Ramirez: "He's not ready to be a major league player yet, but he's going to get better in a hurry." Ramirez was expected to play some center field this spring, given that the club signed Edgar Renteria to a four-year deal. However, Francona has decided to put that idea to the side for now. "He's going to play shortstop," the manager said. "If there comes a time, that's down the road." . . . Keith Foulke's blister impeded his workout for a second straight day. "He's a little sore," Francona said . . . A bottle of water at Sox spring training costs $4.75 . . . Following Tuesday's fittings, Mike Timlin (size 14 1/2) had the largest ring size on the team. The largest size of anyone fitted belonged to Eno Guerrero (15 1/2). Guerrero pitches batting practice, though he's better known as Manny Ramirez's buddy and de facto personal assistant . . . Curt Schilling is expected to throw off a mound today for the first time since Game 2 of the World Series. He worked out inside yesterday . . . Wade Miller continues to long toss at 150 feet. He needs to reach 180 to strengthen his arm sufficiently before throwing off a mound. That could happen within a week.

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