EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

April 9, 2008

Forgiving Buckner makes for emotional return to Fenway Park

BOSTON — Other than Carlton Fisk waving a home run inside the foul pole after midnight or Jonathan Papelbon jumping 3-feet high in the mile-high Colorado air, a World Series game couldn't touch this one.

Bill Buckner, the one Red Sox alum who exemplified, cruelly, 86 years of misery, curses and outright choking, came home. This time, though, Buckner, a former Andover resident, was the only one shedding tears.

Nearly 37,000 fans gave the former first baseman, who strolled slowly from the left field garage door in front of the Green Monster to the pitching mound to throw out the first pitch in yesterday's Red Sox home opener, a five-minute standing ovation.

Buckner's emotional moment came after the Red Sox players received their jewel-studded World Series rings and the 2007 championship flag was raised in center field.

"It's about time," said Paul Bassett of Lawrence, who attended the game with his 10-year-old grandson Joey Ronca of Derry, N.H. "It was a nice surprise. Buckner didn't deserve what he got. This organization always does the right thing. I'm happy for Bill Buckner."

Along his route to the mound, Buckner waved to the fans wiping away tear after tear. After rebuffing several requests from the organization to return to Fenway Park, Buckner decided it was time.

"I had to forgive," said Buckner, breaking down briefly during a press conference minutes after throwing out the first pitch.

"Not the fans, they've always been great to me," he said collecting himself. "I had to forgive the media — for what they put me, and especially my family, through ... I didn't feel I deserved it."

He, of course, was talking about the torment, specifically for his wife and two children.

"I have a son in college ball. ... He's had to deal with it," said Buckner. "And I have a daughter in softball. ... It just has been tough and that's not right."

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