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Tuesday night, I had the pleasure of watching the Boston Red Sox beat the New York Mets 9-4 at Fenway Park. But as much as Boston baseball can feel like a religion, I’d never personally witnessed any warm-fuzzies at the ballpark…until last night.

Before the game, the 1986 Red Sox were honored on the 20th anniversary of the team’s storied pennant- and division-winning season. I don’t have to tell any baseball fans out there that this is also the 20th anniversary of the team’s storied collapse and stunning World Series loss…to the New York Mets. That was the year they wheeled champagne into the Red Sox locker room only to roll it right back out. That was the year a ball slipped through Bill Buckner’s hands, and rolled tragically between his legs.

But as each retired player (of the ’86 Red Sox, only Roger Clemens is still playing professional baseball) jogged out onto the field to stand in their old field positions, there was nothing but love from the stands. The announcer made a specific point when he announced Buckner (who did not attend because he was taking his child to look at colleges) to say that the great player will always be welcome at Fenway Park. Everyone cheered.

To add to the positive mo-jo, former Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez, who now plays for the Mets, was also given an official warm Fenway Park welcome, and when he came out to wave to the crowd, everyone at Fenway was on their feet.

Listening to sports radio on the way home from the game, the host told a caller who called the ovations “bittersweet,” that those feelings weren’t fair. It was time to move on from the painful past, to “let it go” and celebrate 1986 for the victory that it was. It was time to let that year’s later defeat fade into safely distant history.

But then host pointed out that the warm welcome, the happy nostalgia, would probably not have been possible prior to the 2004 Red Sox’s World Series victory, the team’s first since 1918.

As much pride and excitement surrounds Red Sox baseball, there also remains a lot of pent-up frustration and disappointment with roots in that ballpark. Seems one World Series win wasn’t enough to take the “bitter” out of “bittersweet” for that caller. But for the rest of the fans who stood and clapped as those Red Sox legends took the field, it was a brand new day.

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