Buckner throws out first pitch as Red Sox hand out bling
BOSTON -- Bill Buckner's eyes were red. He paused for 15 seconds to control his emotions. Then he spoke again.
The outstanding hitter known for a costly World Series error had just thrown out the ceremonial first pitch to a loud standing ovation before the Red Sox home opener Tuesday. It was a strike to former teammate Dwight Evans.
The experience, Buckner said, was "probably about as emotional as it could get."
But he nearly decided not to come.
The Red Sox received their championship rings for winning the 2007 World Series before Tuesday's 5-0 win over the Detroit Tigers. Buckner's legacy is tied to losing the series in 1986.
The fine-fielding first baseman knew the same old questions would crop up about that play 22 years ago that has been replayed on television hundreds of times. At first, he turned down the team's request. A few days later he agreed to return to Fenway Park for the first time since 1997 when he was batting coach with the Chicago White Sox.
"I really had to forgive," he said after collecting himself, "not the fans of Boston per se, but I would have to say, in my heart, I had to forgive the media ..."
Another pause, this one for 10 seconds, before he continued,"... for what they put me and my family through. So I've done that. I'm over that. And I'm just happy that I just try to think of the positive. The happy things."
Buckner looks younger than his 58 years with the thick mustache he wore as a player. His expression was solemn and his words serious.
The ceremony was "tremendous," Boston catcher Jason Varitek said. "Hopefully, it allows him to enjoy his life and people to enjoy the career that he did have."
Buckner hit .289 with 2,715 hits in 22 years and had more than 100 RBIs in two of his three full seasons with the Red Sox.
But that's been overshadowed since the night of Oct. 25 in Shea Stadium when Mookie Wilson's groundball rolled through his legs in the 10th inning. It capped a three-run rally and drove in the winning run in the New York Mets' 6-5 win that forced a seventh game.
The Mets won the final game 8-5 and Boston's streak of no championships since 1918 continued. That drought ended in 2004, and then the Red Sox made it two championships in four years.
Buckner wasn't the only Red Sox player who failed in the last two games of the 1986 Series. To focus on just one play is "the ugly part of sports," he said.
"I don't think that in society in general that's the way we should operate. What are you teaching kids? Not to try because if you don't succeed then you're going to buried, so don't try?"
The Mets already had tied the game at 5 in the 10th against Calvin Schiraldi and Bob Stanley before Wilson hit the ball to Buckner. And the Red Sox led 3-0 after 5½ innings of Game 7 before the Mets tied it against Bruce Hurst in the bottom of the sixth and nicked Schiraldi for three runs in the seventh and Al Nipper for two in the eighth.
"You can look at that series and point fingers in a whole bunch of different directions," Buckner said. "We did the best we could to win there and it just didn't happen and I didn't feel like I deserved" so much blame.
His son Bobby is a freshman infielder at the University of Texas. His daughter Christen played softball at Boise (Idaho) High School. She is now a reporter for the Fox television station in Boise -- "she's one of you guys now," he said to a roomful of laughter -- and attended her father's news conference for a story to be broadcast Wednesday.
"There were times when they had to deal with it," Buckner said. "I don't think that's fair and that made me a little bitter. I'm over that."
He praised the Red Sox management in place in 1986 and the current ownership group. He thanked fans for their support. He said he'd like to come back some day.
Buckner was cheered continuously as he walked from the Green Monster in left field -- draped with an American flag covering both the 2007 and 2004 World Series banners -- to the mound, waving to the full house along the way.
Current Boston first baseman Kevin Youkilis watched closely.
"I've probably never almost been in tears for somebody else on a baseball field," he said. "I wanted to shake his hand because that's a true man."
Buckner stood on the rubber, came to a stretch, threw the ball then made an umpire's strike sign before embracing Evans.
"I'm glad that he's here," Evans said. "Just seeing him walk out, I couldn't be happier for him."
The pregame ceremonies featured appearances from former players of the Boston Celtics and Bruins, including Bill Russell and Bobby Orr, and current New England Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi.
Then the Red Sox received their rings, which feature 42 diamonds of various sizes. The inside of the ring is engraved with: "Boston Red Sox" and "10-28-07."
David Ortiz received his ring last, with the Red Sox's victory song -- "Dirty Water" by the Standells -- blaring.
Bruschi was touched by the reception for Buckner.
"I thought the ovation was incredible," Bruschi said. "I think you can see the emotion on his face, the way he was taking it all in. I don't know if it was cleansing for him or not. ... I've only been here 13 years but I've heard about that [play] enough."
So has Buckner, who was traded to the Red Sox by the Chicago Cubs in May 1984 and released in July 1987. He rejoined them in 1990 then retired after 22 games.
"Two of my best moments in baseball were when I came back here in '90 and today," he said. "The Red Sox fans, they've been great."
They cheered him in 1986, when the team made it to the seventh game of the World Series.
"It was a great season," Buckner said. "There's a lot of good memories and I'm just happy that I can focus on those."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press