BOSTON -- It's only been nine years since they ended the famous curse, so it's not as if the 2004 Red Sox are coming back to Fenway Park as aging has-beens who let decades pass since their last reunion.
Truthfully, save for a few gray hairs and maybe a little paunch around the middle on a couple of the players, most of them look like they could still throw on the uniform and compete. Many have stayed in the game in some capacity, and for those who have put baseball in their rearview mirrors for the time being, fitting in at Fenway Park still wasn't an issue.
This will always be, on many levels, home.
Select members of the 2004 team -- also affectionately known as the "Idiots," who ended an 86-year World Series title drought in Beantown -- were invited to throw out ceremonial first pitches prior to Game 2 on Thursday night at Fenway Park.
The ringleader, three-time Cy Young Award winner Pedro Martinez, called every reunion with his former teammates a "parade," a fitting description considering more than 3 million lined the streets of Boston to celebrate the championship title nine years ago. Also on the list of alums throwing out the first pitch were Derek Lowe, Trot Nixon, Keith Foulke, Jason Varitek and Kevin Millar.
A 20-minute media session involving Martinez, Lowe and Nixon provided all the proof needed that the camaraderie between teammates from this particular club remains strong and unique. They'll forever be tied together because of the historic nature of what they did that year, from ending such a long and famous streak to overcoming a 3-0 deficit to the Yankees in the American League Championship Series to capture the pennant.
"I think once you win a World Series here, I think there's always going to be a piece of you that roots for them," Lowe said. "It's a special place. There's a lot of asked of you when you play here. But I think you don't appreciate it -- at least I didn't -- until you leave. Once you leave … you miss this."
All three former players made several attempts to shift the conversation back to the current Red Sox, who handily beat the Cardinals on Wednesday night in Game 1, 8-1. But no matter what this team accomplishes, including overcoming a last-place finish and bad publicity in 2012 to win the AL East title the next year, there aren't a ton of parallels to draw between the 2004 Sox and the current club. That's not a knock on either. It's just that the '04 group was unique in a way that really can't be mimicked.
Just consider what happened when Martinez, as charismatic and charming as always, attempted to describe the current Sox.
"It's a team that wants to play," he said. "They want to leave it all out. And I don't know if you guys have been noticing the way they play the game. They play the game like a wolf pack; that's how I describe the whole team, like a wolf pack. They draw a plan to kill and to feed everybody."
Lowe, amused and confused, looked at Martinez and asked, "What are we talking about again? You got me lost."
"Because they go after the kill," Martinez insisted. "A little baby animal that's hurt or something like that, the easiest catch."
"Did you guys get all of that?" Lowe asked, laughing.
Nixon, who closed out his 12-year career in 2008, remembered how anxious he was to get to the ballpark throughout that memorable '04 campaign.
"We couldn't wait to get to the clubhouse every day to be around each other, and that's good," he said. "I think that says a lot about teams. I'm sure there have been plenty of teams that have had success the other way, I don't know. But it was a blast to get to the field. Everybody's ego was checked at the door. Nobody was immune from getting picked on. Once it got to about 6:30, 6:45 [p.m.], guys had their game faces on and were ready to play baseball."
The group of six alums was received by the Fenway crowd enthusiastically, as expected, with Martinez receiving the loudest ovation.
"You know what you're going to see?" Martinez said, a couple of hours before the big moment. "A whole bunch of cuckoo birds again on the field. It's going to be fun and it's going to be interesting."
Right on both counts. David Ortiz, the only holdover from that '04 club, delivered the baseballs, tossing one to each player before taking his place behind the plate with five teammates set to catch the pitches.
"I think the Red Sox organization has always done a great job of bringing ex-players back," Lowe said. "And I know for me personally, I know it's very special."
The pregame ceremony included recognition of recently retired Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, who received the Commissioner's Historic Achievement Award. Also, the Baseball Tomorrow Fund received a $2.5 million donation from MLB and the MLB Players Association to go toward the growth of youth baseball and softball.
The national anthem was performed by Boston-born James Taylor, who was also slated to sing "America the Beautiful" in the middle of the seventh inning. There was also to be a special in-game moment that pays tribute to the victims of the Boston Marathon tragedy in April.
The delivery of the first ball was made by Boys & Girls Clubs of America's Military Youth of the Year, 18-year-old RaShaan Allen, who delivered the ball to the mound with Hall of Famer and MLB executive Frank Robinson.