By Bill Burt
---- — BOSTON — Opening Day 2004, New England baseball fans were still licking their emotional wounds from the previous October, particularly memories of Grady Little, Aaron Boone and the New York Yankees, etc., etc.
A lot seasons before that ended on a down note. But that one took the cake.
“Wait ‘til next year” wasn’t even funny anymore.
And guess who threw out the first pitch? The bastion of winning, New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft.
Well, that’s not the case anymore. For the third time since Kraft threw out that first pitch, the Red Sox have become card-carrying members of the “Championship Driven” Club and they’ve perfected the ring ceremony.
While Red Sox designated hitter/Mayor David Ortiz might represent the before-and-after better than any Red Sox employee — he was there for the debacle and has since been a key participant in all three World Series titles — there might be a better representation of the past and present.
Pedro Martinez. Or make that Pedro Martinez’s smile.
While he didn’t participate in the incredible hour-long pregame ceremony, which included classy tributes to the firemen who died last week and several people connected to the Boston Marathon tragedy, his smile couldn’t be missed.
“It’s great to be here for opening day,” said Martinez, who is a special advisor to GM Ben Cherington. “It’s great to be here with the Red Sox.”
Winning has changed everything around here.
The negativity that followed this franchise was too much to handle for many players and managers.
Despite pitching as well as any pitcher maybe in the history of the sport over a stretch from 1998 through 2003 – 101-28, 2.28 ERA – Martinez had more than his share of cantankerous moments with the fans, media and management.
Even his departure to the New York Mets, after the Sox won the 2004 title, had ugly undertones.
But time and more championships have turned those wounds into scar tissue, which means it is stronger.
Martinez looks like a giddy kid around Fenway Park.
“I love what this franchise has become,” said Martinez. “They’ve been great to me; welcoming me back. ... Everything is positive around here.”
Former Red Sox pitcher Ryan Dempster, who retired after the championship last October, was here to get his World Series ring. He said his life was changed forever because of the one year with the Red Sox.
“I don’t know what it was like before (the championships), but I do know what it is like now,” said Dempster. “Boston is about winning. It’s not just with the Red Sox. It’s with the other teams. It’s with the fans. It will always be a special place for me.”
You can email Bill Burt at firstname.lastname@example.org.