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.”

Max Scherzer will not be ready for Opening Day

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Ten days ago Nationals ace Max Scherzer said he’d be ready for the start of the regular season. “I’m gonna do it,” Scherzer said.

[Ron Howard from “Arrested Development” voice] — No, he’s not:

Nationals manager Dusty Baker said that Max Scherzer is not on track to be the team’s opening day starter, and will most likely open the season as the third pitcher in the rotation.

He’s still projected to make it to the opening rotation, taking the hill, most likely, on Thursday April 6 against the Marlins. At least if the schedule doesn’t slip any more.

Scherzer, as you probably know, has a stress fracture in the knuckle of his right ring finger, which has messed with his preparation and has caused him to alter his grip a bit. As of now Stephen Strasburg will get the Opening Day nod.

Theo Epstein named The World’s Greatest Leader

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Fortune Magazine has put out a list of The World’s Greatest Leaders. Not the greatest business leaders, not the greatest leaders in a given industry, but the Greatest Leaders, full stop. The greatest according to Fortune: The Cubs’ Theo Epstein.

For some context, Pope Francis was third. Angela Merkel was 10th. Lebron James was the next greatest sports leader, ranked 11th. Take Fortune’s methodology with a grain of salt, however, given that it has John McCain above Merkel — what, exactly, does he lead now? — and Samantha Bee in the top 20.

So what makes Theo the world’s best leader according to Fortune?

The Cubs owe their success to a five-year rebuilding program that featured a concatenation of different leadership styles. The team thrived under the affable patience of owner Tom Ricketts, and, later, under the innovative eccentricity of manager Joe Maddon. But most important of all was the evolution of the club’s president for baseball operations, Theo Epstein, the wunderkind executive who realized he would need to grow as a leader in order to replicate in Chicago the success he’d had with the Boston Red Sox.

I don’t want to take anything away from what Theo has done — he’s a Hall of Fame executive already in my view — but I feel like maybe one needs to adjust for the fact that this is a baseball team we’re talking about. They’re the whole world to us and their brands are nationally and even world famous, but as an organization, sports teams are rather small. There are guys who run reasonably-sized HVAC companies with more employees than a baseball team and they don’t get the benefit of an antitrust exemption and a rule which allows them to get their pick of the best new employees if they had a bad year the year before.

Really, not trying to throw shade here, just thinking that being the spiritual father for 1.2 billion Catholics or running a foundation that serves 55 million needy children — like the woman who comes in at number 14 — is a bit of a tougher trick.

But this will make a great framed magazine article on Theo’s wall in Wrigley Field.