Damon Manny

2004 championship Red Sox team reunites at Fenway Park

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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.

Related content: Manny Ramirez says “I behaved bad and I regret it.”

“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.”

Jason Kipnis could join Team Israel for 2017 World Baseball Classic

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 02:  Jason Kipnis #22 of the Cleveland Indians throws during batting practice prior to Game Seven of the 2016 World Series against the Chicago Cubs at Progressive Field on November 2, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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With the 2017 World Baseball Classic around the corner, Team Israel has reportedly reached out to Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis, per MLB Network’s Jon Morosi. Tournament rules stipulate that a player’s roster eligibility can be achieved in one of several ways: they were born in the country in question or hold citizenship/permanent legal residence there (or are simply capable of qualifying for citizenship), or one of their parents was born in the country or holds citizenship/permanent legal residence there.

For Kipnis, it’s the latter. Kipnis’ father, Mark Kipnis, is Jewish. That gives Kipnis the status he needs to suit up for Team Israel, despite the fact that he is a practicing Roman Catholic. He has yet to confirm or deny his participation in the competition.

Fifteen players have confirmed for Team Israel so far, including Mets’ infielder/outfielder Ty Kelly and free agents Sam Fuld, Nate Freiman, Jason Marquis and Jeremy Bleich. Per MLB.com’s Chad Thornburg, eight minor leaguers will also appear for the team. Like Kipnis, at least three other major leaguers are eligible for Team Israel’s roster but have yet to accept or decline involvement in the WBC: Dodgers center fielder Joc Pederson, Mariners infielder/outfielder Danny Valencia and free agent left-hander Craig Breslow.

Rangers to sign James Loney to minor league deal

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - AUGUST 21: James Loney #28 of the New York Mets tosses to first base against the San Francisco Giants during the second inning at AT&T Park on August 21, 2016 in San Francisco, California.  The New York Mets defeated the San Francisco Giants 2-0. (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
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Free agent first baseman James Loney has reportedly signed a minor league deal with the Rangers, per FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman. The deal includes an invite to spring training and a $1 million salary if he makes the major league roster in 2017.

Loney picked up a one-year stint and starting role with the Mets in 2016, slashing .265/.307/.397 with nine home runs in 336 PA. While his numbers were down a hair from the .280/.322/.357 batting line he produced with the Rays in 2015, he provided the Mets with a necessary, if underwhelming upgrade over an injured Lucas Duda through most of the season.

The 32-year-old infielder is expected to have some competition at first base, with at least five other candidates in the mix: Jurickson Profar, Ronald Guzman, Ryan Rua, Joey Gallo and Josh Hamilton. Rumor has it that the team is planning on platooning Rua and Profar in 2017, barring any impressive breakouts or injuries during spring training, though Loney could still provide the club with some veteran depth and a decent left-handed bat off the bench.