Last October, John Bannayan helped Shane Victorino create a "Key to the City of Boston." The Red Sox outfielder gave one to each of his teammates.
Earlier this month, Bannayan made the engagement ring that Will Middlebrooks used to unlock the door to Jenny's Dell heart.
And it all began on Instagram.
After the Red Sox advanced past Tampa Bay in the ALDS last season, Victorino asked Bannayan, a jeweler from Greece, N.Y., to make a "Key to the City of Boston." Bannayan made about 50 of the jewel-encrusted keys. Its shape followed a photo of the city's skyline. Victorino and his wife gave out the keys to his Red Sox teammates, team employees, friends, and family.
Bannayan, an "almost 100-percent" Yankees fan (a point he clarified Thursday), once never would have imagined making anything to commemorate the success of the Red Sox. That all changed when Victorino noticed some of the photos of custom-designed sneakers he (@JonBan) had posted on Instagram last year. The two became connected through the social media site and their friendship grew from there.
Not only did Victorino commission Bannayan to make those special Red Sox keys after the ALDS, he had the jeweler as his invited guest at Game 6 of the ALCS last October.
That night, this happened:
The next morning, the ever-appreciative Victorino had Bannayan over to his house for breakfast. They stayed in touch in the offseason and continue to text each other on nearly a daily basis. Bannayan's allegiance to the Yankees waned, as his ties to Victorino and the Red Sox grew.
This season hasn't been fun for Victorino. In May, he re-injured his right hamstring. While rehabbing in the minors, he hurt his back. He missed his rehab start for Class AA Portland Saturday because of weekend traffic from Boston to Maine. He went 0-for-2 with a walk in Sunday's Futures at Fenway Game for Class A Lowell.
Middlebrooks, meanwhile, continues his extended injury rehab in Pawtucket. He's hit only .197 in just 21 games with last-place Boston.
When the PawSox were visiting Rochester in mid-June, Victorino, Bannayan, and Middlebrooks went out to dinner. After the introductions, Middlebrooks mentioned he was in the market for an engagement ring.
"The next day, he came into the store. I showed him some diamonds. He had the design chosen already. He showed me photos of the type of ring he wanted," Bannayan said. "We made it happen in less than a week's time. We sent designs back and forth but he had everything in his mind how he wanted to do it."
The final product was a halo ring with a split shank. Bannayan would not discuss number of carats or the final price. "All that he told me was that 'I want it to be perfect,'" Bannayan said.
Looks damn near perfect from this end.
Bannayan's father, Vic, started the family business 30 years ago. Bannayan is protective of his clients' information and only spoke about this after Middlebrooks gave him the OK. A request to speak to Middlebrooks and Dell about their engagement was relayed through Bannayan. Victorino was vacationing with his family during the All-Star break and is expected to re-join the Red Sox on Friday.
The fact that Middlebrooks helped to design his own engagement ring is not as quite as rare it once might have been. "Nowadays Ė it's half and half," Bannayan said. "Some guys know what they want. Some guys don't know. He definitely wanted it perfect. We do it all right here and this was a custom piece."
This was a rush job, as Middlebrooks proposed to Dell on Monday and it was less than a month ago when he first met Bannayan. An original piece like the one he gave to Dell can take up to four months to make, depending on the diamonds involved.
Given that Victorino and Middlebrooks are both dealing with injuries and have gotten custom-made jewelry by someone who usually considers himself a die-hard Yankees fan, the question has to be asked.
"Is this jewelry carrying an Evil Empire curse?"
"I guarantee you I have nothing to with that," he said. "I do get razzed about it. I hate seeing them go through this. When you know a person genuinely like that, you realize how frustrating it is for them."
Bannayan has helped to create a "a big Shane Victorino following in Rochester," a following that can only grow once Victorino finally returns to the Red Sox lineup.
"It's been incredible," he said. "I look at Shane like a brother. These types of relationships and friendships are rare ... Here I am, coming from a small town near Rochester and running a family business. If you do it and you're honest and trustworthy, good things happen. Itís just amazing. Crazy. It's not a snowball effect, it's more like an avalanche effect. (Middlebrooks') ring is one of the nicer rings I've been honored to make."
The OBF column is written by award-winning journalist and Bay State native Bill Speros. Hit him up on his Obnoxious Boston Fan Facebook page, on Twitter @realOBF or at his
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