The Red Sox honored the 1986 American League champions before Wednesday's game, but it wasn't the same.
Some 30 years on, the players, understandably, were older and heavier.
Hairlines were receded, or gone altogether, and waistlines expanded. It happens to the best of us.
But that wasn't what made the occasion melancholy. And it went beyond the usual nostalgia, that recognition that time eventually catches up to us all, or even the knowledge that some of that team's stars had already passed away (Dave Henderson) while others weren't well enough to appear.
No, it was something more. It was the realization that, through no fault of its own, the 1986 American League Championship team will mean less and
less as time passes.
The same can be said of the 1967 Impossible Dream Red Sox and the 1975 A.L. champs, too.
For the longest time, those teams -- each of which won a pennant and got as far as Game 7 of the World Series before coming up short of the ultimate
goal -- were all Red Sox fans had. The near misses. The Almosts.
Those teams were lionized, romanticized and celebrated because they came the closest in the modern era to snapping the franchise's championship
drought. A break here, a bounce there, and maybe the string of futility wouldn't have reached 86 long years.
For decades, Red Sox fans had to relive how tantalizingly close those three teams got.
If only Lonborg had more rest for Game 7 in 1967.
What might have happened if Rice didn't break his hand in September of 1975?
No team got closer than the one in 1986, when the Red Sox were, more than once, one strike away. The champagne was on ice. The clubhouse was
set up for a celebration. Even the Mets, prematurely, saluted the Red Sox as 1986 champions on the scoreboard at Shea Stadium.
Then, it all unraveled, from the wild pitch/passed ball, to the "little roller up along first.....behind the bag!'' That was only Game 6 of course, but the dye was cast that night. Game 7 would end in defeat, too.
For decades, that was all the Red Sox and their fans had. And so they toasted their heroes, who fell just short of their goal, relived the misery and staged the occasional baseball equivalent of an Irish wake.
What else was there to do? In need of champions, Red Sox Nation settled on the next best thing. Those guys played their hearts out, cried some in the dugout, then held their heads high.
Then came 2004. And after that, 2007. And for good measure, 2013.
Suddenly, this World Series thing wasn't so complicated after all.
Three titles were notched in the span of a decade.
Now, there are happy endings to celebrate. There are Octobers to remember without the cruel plot twists at the end.
No more close calls, what ifs or could-have-beens. There were three honest-to-goodness World Series championships to celebrate. Even with three
last place finishes int the last four seasons, present-day Red Sox fans can lay claim to having experienced the greatest era of the team's long history.
And that, of course, has served to marginalize teams like the 1986 Red Sox.
Teams like that one, like the one lauded on the field at Fenway Wednesday night, are now quaint remembrances of another era in team history. It's like looking at old picture of yourself, decked out in a leisure suit with platform shoes: it seemed like a good idea at the time.
So, you smile and remember, ruefully, Marty Barrett and Oil Can Boyd and Rich Gedman. You thank them for their effort, and the memories they gave, even if some of them are still painful.
But you don't hold them in the same regard as Dave Roberts or Kevin Millar or Keith Foulke. You remember Clemens, but not in the way you revere Curt Schilling.
You still have fond feelings for '67 and '75, and most assuredly, '86, and sometimes, when you think of how they all ended their seasons, how impossibly close they came, you can't help but smile.
Now, you have other editions -- three! -- that figured out how to finish it off. You don't have to apologize for throwing them celebrations and you don't have to explain to out-of-towners why it is you're paying tribute to a team that lost when it counted most.
And every year, whether you acknowledge it or not, those teams -- none more than the one from 1986 that was feted Wednesday -- mean a little less, fade a little more into the recesses of time and shrink into history.