BOSTON — The most celebrated team in Red Sox history gathered at Fenway Wednesday to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the 2004 championship team.
In some ways, the players said, the title feels like it was won a long time ago. In other ways, it seems much more recent.
“People don’t understand,” said Derek Lowe, “but when the season ends, you just kind of go your separate ways, so I haven’t seen a lot of these guys for 10 years.
“There’s been a lot of great stories and it’s great to see some of the young guys all grown up.”
“It’s crazy to think 10 years have already gone by,” said Kevin Youkilis. “You sit back and think how quickly it goes.”
“This is great,” beamed Jason Varitek. “There’s faces I haven’t seen since 2004, since the parade. Fortunately, there’s been a few things (occasions to re-unite) and being around, you get to see some people at different times. But you’ve got people scattered all over.”
For a period of 48 hours or so, however, this was a chance to get together and toast the first championship for the franchise in 86 years.
“When you start watching clips,” said Varitek, “it seems like just yesterday. But everybody moves on and you sometimes need to watch things on TV (to jog your memory) and remember some of the moments and the faces. Then the stories start — stuff that went on in the clubhouse, stuff with the guys and a lot of the fun.”
It was, to put it mildly, a unique bunch, full of characters as diverse as Pedro Martinez, Johnny Damon, Kevin Millar and Manny Ramirez. Each brought something to the mix.
“We had chemistry,” declared Lowe. “We had a lot of great personalities, strong personalities. But the way we were able to jell, that was (special).”
Those personalities helped withstand what Varitek termed “the burden of 86 years” without a championship.
The team had come paralyzingly close a season earlier, when the American League pennant slipped from their hands in extra innings of Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS.
That spurred on the players, and in turn, management.
“What made ’04 so special is the way ’03 ended,” said Lowe. “Getting Keith Foulke and Curt Schilling (was key). The team was built for success, built to get back (into the post-season).”
Which they did, only to fall behind 0-3 to the Yankees in the ALCS, before beginning their historic comeback.
Now, the players from 2004 have changed and so, too, has the perception of the Red Sox. Back then, the Sox were seen as a team which historically had big stars, but could never win it all.
A decade later, they’ve won three championships, and become a model organization.
“They’ve created a winning atmosphere,” said Lowe, “and people know what the Red Sox have achieved and guys want to be part of it. You look at the chemistry they had in 2013 (and it’s similar).”
“I think what’s important is to recognize what went on before we won the championships,” said Varitek, “with the Mo Vaughns and Jim Rices and (Carl) Yastrzesmkis. You keep going back and see the guys who fought and battled to help teach the next generation and say, ‘OK, we got close. This is what we need to do better.’ And you build and build.
“We crashed and burned in ’03 at the last possible moment, but it still a building block. Then we finally broke through.”
After that, there was a palpable sense of release that the Sox had shun the negative baggage that had weighed down the franchise. It was liberating.
“Maybe in your first year here, you don’t really understand (the magnitude of it),” said Varitek. “But the longer you’re here, the heavier it is.”
Now, those same players are part of the most beloved Red Sox history, who seemingly can’t be thanked enough.
“I didn’t know that much about the 86 years,” said Orlando Cabrera. “It didn’t really hit until after we won and we were in the parade, and I saw these really old people, like 90 years old, saying, ‘Thank you – I can die happy.’ Or, ‘Thank you — you’ve made my father’s day.’ I was like, wow.”