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As Red Sox celebrate ’04 title, two notable absences define the day

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As Red Sox celebrate ’04 title, two notable absences define the day

By Chad Jennings, Stephen J. Nesbitt and Jen McCaffrey

BOSTON — “American Pie” is a celebratory tune of nostalgia and mourning. It’s the song the Boston Red Sox chose as the soundtrack of their home opener pregame ceremony on Tuesday.

The moment wasn’t meant to be entirely triumphant.

Through the upbeat heart of the song, the video board showed a highlight reel of the 2004 championship season. Manny Ramirez hitting homers.Jason Varitek fighting Alex Rodriguez. Dave Roberts stealing second base. The crowd roared at all the right moments. The music was loud and festive.

And at the end, when the song slowed to a somber pace, the images changed to Tim Wakefield. Running the bases as a young minor league first baseman. Throwing knuckleballs as a converted pitcher. His 200th career win. His induction into the Red Sox Hall of Fame. His endless outreach with the Jimmy Fund. The final image was that of Tim and his wife Stacy, each of whom succumbed to cancer, Tim in October, Stacy in February.

Don McLean’s lyrics trailed off as from the left-field wall came more than 30 members of that iconic ’04 Red Sox team. Kevin Millar, in jeans and cowboy boots, filming on his phone. Johnny Damon, wearing shorts and bright red shoes and sporting long black hair, holding the World Series trophy. Trevor and Brianna Wakefield, Tim and Stacy’s kids, holding hands as they led the procession. Brianna threw out the ceremonial first pitch, striking that celebratory chord of nostalgia and mourning even after the music faded out.

Title teams are inextricably linked, remembered, cherished, brought back to town for round-number anniversaries. The 2004 Red Sox are forever. Twenty years later, they’re still the men who broke the curse — Ortiz and Varitek, of course, but also Jimmy Anderson (six innings pitched) and Earl Snyder (four at-bats). They were back at Fenway on Tuesday. Forever teammates, eternally bound.

“It’s like it was yesterday once you’re together,” Varitek said. “You spend that much time together throughout the season and multiple seasons, to get back and see them honored and see everyone honored for what they accomplished was great. You laugh and you giggle and you tell stories.”

Of the small handful that were missing, two stood out, symbols of the limitless bonds of iconic teams, and what happens when those connections inexplicably snap.

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Stacy and Tim Wakefield both died of cancer in the space of just a few months. (Kelvin Ma / MediaNews Group / Boston Herald via Getty Images)

The No. 49 heart patches on the current Red Sox uniforms were in celebration of Wakefield. A philanthropist and a broadcaster, a father and a husband, his legacy continues to ripple through New England.

The unspoken name was Curt Schilling, one of the most talented players on that ‘04 team and the centerpiece of one of its most iconic playoff moments, whose public outing of Wakefield’s illness — just days before Wakefield died — severed that enduring connection. Schilling chose not to attend on Tuesday. Pitcher Derek Lowe said Schilling’s absence was “the consensus” among the players.

This is probably the best scenario for everybody,” Lowetold MassLive on Monday. “Somebody, later in the evening, would have said something to him. And I’m not saying it would have been me. It just wasn’t the place for it.”

On a team like this, it doesn’t take much to be beloved. Players are flawed, and teammates tend to accept that in one another. They come from different places, with different interests and varying moral codes, but they find common ground in the game. They don’t all have to be best friends, but when they win, they rise together. And that pedestal remains.

Late in his career, Ramirez twice tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. He was still given a rousing ovation as fans saw him roaming batting practice on Tuesday. Damon not only left via free agency but signed with the rival New York Yankees and had the audacity to win a World Series in the Bronx. He was still chosen to bring the Red Sox trophy onto the field Tuesday. They are heroes in Boston, just like Ortiz and Varitek and Pedro Martinez (who couldn’t attend because of a TV commitment).

But Keith Foulke, too, has a legacy. He had only one dominant season with the Red Sox, but the image of him lifting Varitek in euphoric celebration has hung on bedroom walls for two decades. Second baseman Mark Bellhorn played just one full season in Boston, led the American League in strikeouts and was released the following August, but he hit three home runs in the ’04 playoffs, including a couple of big ones, and there are “Who Died And Made You Mark Bellhorn?” t-shirts. Kevin Millar never made an All-Star team, led the league in one category, one time (it was hit by pitches), and is now among the most recognizable personalities on MLB Network.

“I live in New Hampshire,” shortstop Orlando Cabrera said. “Almost every day somebody asks, ‘Hey, how many years did you play (for the Red Sox)?’ I’m like, ‘Three months.’ It’s unbelievable. But three months, that’s all it takes.”

And still, Wakefield set himself apart. He helped design the ’04 championship rings. He kept pitching into his mid-40s, winning another championship and making his first All-Star team at age 42. His work with Stacy at the Jimmy Fund became as impactful as his success on the mound. Stacy and Brianna visited the clinic again around the Christmas holiday, less than three months after Tim’s death and just weeks before Stacy’s.

“(Tim) was Mr. Red Sox,” Damon said. “Having his family out there is absolutely tremendous. We’re all family. His kids are going to count on us going forward, and we’re all going to be there for them. … He was just a very special person. He touched a lot of hearts out there. I think that’s why you see this happening. They just don’t celebrate everybody.”

No, they don’t. Not like this. And the fact Schilling felt the need to distance himself was further proof. In a Facebook post in March, Schilling confirmed that he would not be attending the ceremony and that his conduct regarding the Wakefields was the reason.

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Curt Schilling’s on-field accomplishments have taken a backseat to his off-field issues. (Jim Davis / The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

“Let the focus be on 04 and Wakey and (Stacy),” Schilling wrote. “I’ll forever regret what happened but I cannot in good conscience put my self in a position that would detract from the recognition that team and the Wakefields deserve.”

By some measurements, Schilling was the best player on that ‘04 team. Both FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference give him the team’s highest WAR by a significant margin. He was nearly 38 years old, dominated in September, underwent a largely untested medical procedure in October and pitched an iconic ALCS Game 6 with blood leaking through his stitches and into his sock. He was an unforgettable presence on an exceptional team, and he’s spent the decades since chipping away at that legacy.�

In 2015, Schilling was suspended by ESPN for a tweet comparing Muslim extremists to Nazis. The following year, he wasfired by ESPN for a Facebook post that mocked transgender bathroom laws. Later in 2016, Schilling tweeted“so much awesome here” in reference to a shirt suggesting journalists should be hanged. In 2021, hetweeted his support of the Jan. 6 Capitol riots. His echoing of extreme right-wing talking pointsgoes on and on and on..

These events, though, existed outside the team bubble, and teammates can dismiss them (or even celebrate them if their opinions align). Same for the costly flop of Schilling’s 38 Studios video game company, an across-the-board embarrassment that led to a criminal investigation and cost the state of Rhode Island millions of dollars. A great split-finger fastball doesn’t necessarily indicate great business acumen, and Schilling’s failure as an entrepreneur did little to taint his success as a pitcher.�

His outing of Wakefield’s illness, though, was different. It was an internal affair. �

“(It was) bulls—, what he did,” Lowe told MassLive. “I knew a lot. Golfed with (Wakefield), knew the whole story. And understanding what they wanted out as a family, and you do that? It’s just bulls—.”

Tuesday’s ceremony was a moment of many things. Triumph and sadness, reunion and loss. It was not time for bulls—. It was a time to celebrate Tim Wakefield, and the lasting legacy of teammates who rise together and stay together. Forever.

(Top photo: Billie Weiss / Boston Red Sox / Getty Images)

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