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Buckner gets warm reception

By Howard Ulman
Associated Press
BOSTON ó Bill Bucknerís eyes were red. He paused for 15 seconds to control his emotions. Then he spoke again.
The outstanding hitter known for a costly World Series error had just thrown out the ceremonial first pitch to a loud standing ovation before the Red Sox home opener Tuesday. It was a strike to former teammate Dwight Evans.
The experience, Buckner said, was iprobably about as emotional as it could get.î
But he nearly decided not to come.
The Red Sox received their championship rings for winning the 2007 World Series before Tuesdayís 5-0 win over the Detroit Tigers. Bucknerís legacy is tied to losing the series in 1986.
The fine-fielding first baseman knew the same old questions would crop up about that play 22 years ago that has been replayed on television hundreds of times. At first, he turned down the teamís request. A few days later he agreed to return to Fenway Park for the first time since 1997 when he was batting coach with the Chicago White Sox.
iI really had to forgive,î he said after collecting himself, inot the fans of Boston per se, but I would have to say, in my heart, I had to forgive the media …î
Another pause, this one for 10 seconds, before he continued, i… for what they put me and my family through. So Iíve done that. Iím over that. And Iím just happy that I just try to think of the positive. The happy things.î
Buckner looks younger than his 58 years with the thick mustache he wore as a player. His expression was solemn and his words serious.
The ceremony was itremendous,î Boston catcher Jason Varitek said. iHopefully, it allows him to enjoy his life and people to enjoy the career that he did have.î
Buckner hit .289 with 2,715 hits in 22 years and had more than 100 RBIs in two of his three full seasons with the Red Sox.
But thatís been overshadowed since the night of Oct. 25 in Shea Stadium when Mookie Wilsonís groundball rolled through his legs in the 10th inning. It capped a three-run rally and drove in the winning run in the New York Metsí 6-5 win that forced a seventh game.
The Mets won the final game 8-5 and Bostonís streak of no championships since 1918 continued. That drought ended in 2004, and then the Red Sox made it two championships in four years.
Buckner wasnít the only Red Sox player who failed in the last two games of the 1986 Series. To focus on just one play is ithe ugly part of sports,î he said.
iI donít think that in society in general thatís the way we should operate. What are you teaching kids? Not to try because if you donít succeed then youíre going to buried, so donít try?î
The Mets already had tied the game at 5 in the 10th against Calvin Schiraldi and Bob Stanley before Wilson hit the ball to Buckner. And the Red Sox led 3-0 after 51/2 innings of Game 7 before the Mets tied it against Bruce Hurst in the bottom of the sixth and nicked Schiraldi for three runs in the seventh and Al Nipper for two in the eighth.
iYou can look at that series and point fingers in a whole bunch of different directions,î Buckner said. iWe did the best we could to win there and it just didnít happen and I didnít feel like I deservedî so much blame.
His son Bobby is a freshman infielder at the University of Texas. His daughter Christen played softball at Boise (Idaho) High School. She is now a reporter for the Fox television station in Boise ó isheís one of you guys now,î he said to a roomful of laughter ó and attended her fatherís news conference for a story to be broadcast today.
iThere were times when they had to deal with it,î Buckner said. iI donít think thatís fair, and that made me a little bitter. Iím over that.î
He praised the Red Sox management in place in 1986 and the current ownership group. He thanked fans for their support. He said heíd like to come back some day.
Buckner was cheered continuously as he walked from the Green Monster in left field ó draped with an American flag covering both the 2007 and 2004 World Series banners ó to the mound, waving to the full house along the way.
Current Boston first baseman Kevin Youkilis watched closely.
iIíve probably never almost been in tears for somebody else on a baseball field,î he said. iI wanted to shake his hand because thatís a true man.î
Buckner stood on the rubber, came to a stretch, threw the ball then made an umpireís strike sign before embracing Evans.
iIím glad that heís here,î Evans said. iJust seeing him walk out, I couldnít be happier for him.î
The pregame ceremonies featured appearances from former Boston Celtics and Bruins, including Bill Russell and Bobby Orr, and current New England Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi.
Then the Red Sox received their rings, which feature 42 diamonds of various sizes. The inside of the ring is engraved with: iBoston Red Soxî and i10-28-07.î
David Ortiz received his ring last, with the Red Soxís victory song ó iDirty Waterî by the Standells ó blaring.
Bruschi was touched by the reception for Buckner.
iI thought the ovation was incredible,î Bruschi said. iI think you can see the emotion on his face, the way he was taking it all in. I donít know if it was cleansing for him or not. … Iíve only been here 13 years but Iíve heard about that (play) enough.î
So has Buckner, who was traded to the Red Sox by the Chicago Cubs in May 1984 and released in July 1987. He rejoined them in 1990 then retired after 22 games.
iTwo of my best moments in baseball were when I came back here in í90 and today,î he said. iThe Red Sox fans, theyíve been great.î
They cheered him in 1986, when the team made it to the seventh game of the World Series.
iIt was a great season,î Buckner said. iThereís a lot of good memories and Iím just happy that I can focus on those.î

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