BOSTON -- Opening Day at Fenway Park kicked off with a series of pitch-perfect moments that were equal parts poignant and joyous, celebrating the Red Sox and the city that has supported them over the course of an emotional year.
After dropping a new over-sized version of the team's 2013 championship banner across the Green Monster, the team's championship rings were brought out. The pieces of jewelry, however, were far from the stars of the show.
As "Lean on me" by Bill Withers blared over the public address system, some of those most affected by last April's Boston Marathon bombings emerged from left field, rings in hand. The families of Martin Richard, Crystal Campbell and officer Sean Collier -- three of those killed in the attacks -- accompanied officer Richard Donahue (who was injured in a firefight after the bombings) and first responder Carlos Arredondo to the Red Sox dugout, where they were greeted by players. Dancer Adrianne Haslet-Davis who lost part of her lower left leg in the attacks, and her husband, Adam Davis, were also among the presenters.
Second baseman Dustin Pedroia led a long line of Red Sox accepting their rings one-by-one to large roars from the Fenway crowd, with pitcher Jon Lester, outfielder Jonny Gomes, outfielder Shane Victorino, closer Koji Uehara and designated hitter David Ortiz drawing the loudest cheers.
After raising the championship flag, along with the American flag, up the flag pole in center field, the team honored another set of Boston's off-the-field heroes. Members of Engine 33 and Ladder 15 in Boston walked out from inside the center-field wall and, together with the Red Sox players, lowered the flags to half mast in order to honor those fallen in the deadly fire in Boston's Back Bay last week.
Red Sox vice president and senior adviser Dr. Charles Steinberg drew up the hour-long ceremony from start to finish, holding a moment of silence for Lieutenant Edward Walsh and firefighter Michael Kennedy who died in last week's blaze, followed by the National Anthem which was played by two local favorites: the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra and the Dropkick Murphys.
By the end, it was a party. Irish step dancers tapped their toes in the Red Sox on-deck circle as former New England champions strutted towards the pitcher's mound for the first pitch. Former Red Sox Pedro Martinez, Mike Lowell and Jason Varitek, Patriots Ty Law, Troy Brown and Tedi Bruschi, Celtic Leon Powe and Bruin Mark Recchi -- all representing recent local championship teams (2004, 2007 Sox; 2001, 2003, 2004 Patriots; 2008 Celtics; 2011 Bruins) -- accompanied former Boston mayor Tom Menino to the mound. Current mayor Marty Walsh met them there and threw the first pitch, high but with plenty of juice, to Ortiz.
With that, baseball at Fenway was ready to start for 2014.