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Red-letter day for World Series champs

Red-letter day for World Series champions

BOSTON -- Five months of blood sweat and tears turned into cheers Monday as Red Sox fans joined with their World Series heroes to commemorate their historic title of 2004 during the most anticipated home opener in team history.

Mother Nature cooperated as a cool breeze and brilliant sun-drenched field greeted all of those who came out to witness history at Fenway Park.

During an hour-long production worthy of Broadway acclaim, Red Sox fans had their chance to cheer like never before as the team, players, coaches and staff were given their 2004 World Series championship rings while Red Sox legends were given the honor of raising a world championship banner for the first time in 86 years.

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"Today was the opportunity we hoped for," said Dr. Charles Steinberg, Red Sox vice president of public affairs and the director of Monday's spectacle. "It was a coming together -- a chance to connect with the community that so badly wanted this for so long. It was such an emotional celebration."

The celebration came in front of the 146th consecutive sellout crowd, on hand for the ceremony and the home opener against the Yankees.

With members of the world-renowned Boston Pops and Boston Symphony Orchestra teaming to play the theme from '2001' in the background, the ceremony began with banners being dropped one by one from the top of the Green Monster, climaxing with a 2004 World Series Champions banner the length of the famed green wall covering them all.

From there, the sellout crowd was moved by the delivery of each and every World Series ring to a table in front of the Red Sox dugout by various U.S. military personnel who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Red Sox principal owner John Henry, vice chairman Tom Werner and team president/CEO Larry Lucchino stood waiting to hand out the hardware.

The first to receive his ring was manager Terry Francona, making his first appearance with the team since leaving with a medical condition last week in New York.

Then it was the players' turn. From Tim Wakefield, the first player to receive his ring, to Curt Schilling and every player in between, fans had their chance to cheer those who helped end 86 years of frustration.

Even former Red Sox players Derek Lowe and Dave Roberts, both given excused absences from the Dodgers and Padres, respectively, were cheered loudly as they walked out on the red carpet to accept their reward.

"It feels heavy," said Lowe of his new jewelry. "It's hard to shake hands with. But it was a great day. It was a long day, but a fun day."

Fans showered Lowe with a long ovation, as the video board in center showed Lowe's dominant postseason highlights from 2004.

"It was touching," Lowe said. "You expect cheers, but you don't know to what volume. It really doesn't matter. It's a great way to finalize last year."

"For me, it was kind of like, 'You don't know what you have until it's gone.' And being away, you have memories," Roberts added. "To come back here today, it's hard to put into words the emotions. You have expectations, but to be received like we were and the team was, it's something that's going to go down in the record books for all of us."

Capping off the ring ceremony was the standing ovation given by the fans, Red Sox and Yankees to Sox legend Johnny Pesky, who waited 64 years for such an opportunity.

The current Red Sox, led by Pesky, then made their way out to left-center field where former Red Sox stars like Carl Yastrzemski and Rico Petrocelli awaited. Once all parties came together, Pesky and Yaz came together at the base of the rope holding the banner proclaiming Boston as 2004 World Series champions.

Following the emotional pinnacle of the ring ceremony and the flag raising, there was one more unforgettable moment.

Hall of Famer Bill Russell of the legendary Boston Celtics dynasty teams of the 1960s made his first Fenway Park appearance in more than 40 years and was joined by Boston Bruins great Bobby Orr and current New England Patriots stars Richard Seymour and Tedy Bruschi. All four were chosen to simultaneously throw out the ceremonial first pitch.

For New England sports fans, the appearance of Bruschi was particularly moving, considering it was his first public appearance since suffering a mild stroke in February, following the Patriots' third Super Bowl title in the last four years.

"This is an extreme honor for me because this is a historic day -- the Red Sox championship solidifying the championships of the Patriots, the Celtics and the Bruins," Bruschi said in a statement. "This solidifies the whole area of New England being a whole region of champions. For them to ask us to throw out the first pitch is an honor for me."

Bruschi's battery mate in the first pitch ceremony was Francona. Not only have both recently dealt with serious medical issues, but both attended the University of Arizona. Bruschi wore a Red Sox uniform with Francona's No. 47 on the back.

"Well, we won so that made it really cool," said Curt Schilling, who played catcher to dig Russell's pitch out of the dirt. "I was expecting to be the only guy to get a dirt-ball. I think it's been a while since he's had to throw one. But it was neat. There was a lot of history and a lot of fame in those four guys."

Monday's temperatures in the upper 40s felt like mid-summer for Dennis Bujan. The Bronx, N.Y., native and Red Sox fan waited three days outside in the cold during the heart of winter to get a glimpse of history Monday at Fenway Park.

For Bujan, it was a small price to pay to ensure his seat inside as the Red Sox received their rings and raised the 2004 World Series title flag in center field.

"Now that the day is here, it was absolutely worth it," Bujan said, after waiting another three hours Monday before gates opened at noon. "What makes it worth it is that my wife and kids are up here with me to celebrate. I just want them to feel the joy I feel today after all those years of frustration."

Bujan made his way up over the weekend to be apart of festivities inside Fenway to celebrate the 2004 World Series champions.

"I was a newcomer to the [season ticket-buying process]. I was freezing that day. What I'm anticipating most today is when they get the rings right in front of the Yankees. That's going to be an awesome feeling."

Chico Malkofsky, 58, didn't have as far to travel from his South Boston home and joined the thousands who looked with ahead with great anticipation to the once-in-a-lifetime moment.

"I've waited a couple of hours, but it's a great day. It's sunny out and we have everything going for us today," Malkofsky said.

Francona made his first appearance as manager since chest pains in New York last week forced him to miss the last four games.

"What I'm more happy for [Monday] is the fans who care about the Red Sox and have gone a long time in suffering," Francona said before taking the field to accept his ring. "It's special for everybody, but for people who have been affiliated with the Red Sox a long time or have cared about them a long time, it's a pretty neat day."

The picture perfect day was capped off by the annual "Welcome Back Dinner," benefiting the Red Sox Foundation and its charities. Mayor Tom Menino joined with comedians Seth Myers and Steve Sweeney and Hollywood heavyweight Ben Affleck in honoring the champs before a sold-out ballroom at the Boston Sheraton.

Henry, Werner and Lucchino also took the opportunity following the dinner to deliver rings to each and every partner in the Red Sox ownership group.

Mike Petraglia is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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