Can Monday’s home opener match Bill Buckner’s return?

Bill Foley (@foles74)
Contributing Writer

During the pregame ceremony of the 2008 Red Sox home opener, Bill Buckner emerged from under the giant American flag hanging over the Green Monster. Then slowly made his way to the mound to throw out the ceremonial first pitch to former teammate Dwight Evans.
(Brian Snyder-Pool/Getty Images)
The 2007 Red Sox received their World Series rings on that glorious day at Fenway Park, but Buckner’s surprise arrival and the long, loud ovation he received stole the show.

If you had a dry eye, you are probably not human.

Buckner’s long, slow, tearful walk to Evans symbolized closure on one of the ugly black eyes in the history of the Boston Red Sox.

Everybody, young and old, knows that Bill Buckner is the first baseman who let Mookie Wilson’s grounder go through his legs in the 10th inning of Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. Most, though, don’t know the story of Bill Buckner.

A lot, it seems, don’t even understand the crucial error that ended the game. Sure, the error allowed Ray Knight to score the winning run. We all know that.

Had Buckner fielded the ball cleanly and he or pitcher Bob Stanley beat Wilson to first, though, the out would have led to the 11th inning, not a Red Sox world championship. The Red Sox already blew the two-run lead. They also blew a 3-0 lead in Game 7.

More importantly, the Red Sox never would have been there to lose so grandly without Buckner, who drove in 102 runs in 1986.

"No one played harder than Bill,” Evans said, according to a story that 2008 day by Amalie Benjamin in The Boston Globe. “No one prepared themselves as well as Bill Buckner did, and no one wanted to win as much as Bill Buckner.”

The media apparently forgot all that when pushing the Bucker goat narrative for a couple of decades, fueling the ignorance of countless fans.

After the 2004 World Series, fans held up signs proclaiming that they forgave Buckner, and that is silly and insulting. Red Sox fans should never forgive Buckner because there was never reason to in the first place. They should have thanked him for his efforts that were always all-out and sometimes heroic.

They should also thank Billy Buck for forgiving them. That’s what Buckner’s appearance meant. He forgave for the hell he and his family were put through unnecessarily for so many years, but he didn’t point a finger at the fan base.

"I really had to forgive, not the fans of Boston, per se, but I would have to say in my heart I had to forgive the media. For what they put me and my family through,” Buckner said. “So, you know, I've done that and I'm over that."

Buckner won the 1980 National League batting title as a member of the Cubs. He played 21 years in the big leagues with a lifetime batting average of .289. His name should be mentioned every year during the Hall of Fame voting.

Perhaps Buckner’s most impressive baseball moment, however, was walking out on Fenway for that first pitch.

Kevin Youkilis, who knows a thing or two about sacrificing his body for the Red Sox, took notice of that.

“I’ve probably never almost been in tears for somebody else on the baseball field,” the Greek God of Walks said, according to Benjamin “I think that was just the most unbelievable thing. It shows how great of a man Bill Buckner is.

“There’s not too many people that can do what he did today and face thousands of people that booed him, threatened his life. For a man to step out there on the field, it shows how much of a man he is. I tip my cap. I just wanted to shake his hand. Because that’s a true man in life.”

We still have that little matter of three games in the Bronx before we get there, but it’s hard not to look ahead to see what Monday has in store. The Red Sox ownership group definitely knows how to put on a ceremony.

Whether it is honoring the Jimmy Fund or welcoming the Bruins with Lord Stanley’s Cup, the festivities before the first home game have been spectacular over the last decade.

Monday is sure to be another memorable day. It will, however, be very hard to top that one in 2008.