‘Emotional’ Buckner welcomed at Fenway



By Howard Ulman

BOSTON – Bill Buckner’s 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 ovation before the Red Sox home opener Tuesday. It was a strike to former teammate Dwight Evans.

The experience, Buckner said, was “probably about as emotional as it could get.”

But he nearly decided not to come.

The Red Sox received their championship rings for winning the 2007 World Series before Tuesday’s game against the Detroit Tigers. Buckner’s legacy is tied to losing the Series in 1986.

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The former 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 team’s request. A few days later he agreed to return to Fenway Park for the first time since 1997.

“I really had to forgive,” he said after collecting himself, “not the fans of Boston per se, but I would have to say, in my heart, I had to forgive the media…”

Another pause, this one for 10 seconds, before he continued, “…for what they put me and my family through. So I’ve done that. I’m over that. And I’m just happy that I just try to think of the positive. The happy things.”

And not about the night of Oct. 25 in Shea Stadium when Mookie Wilson’s ground ball rolled through his legs in the 10th inning. It capped a three-run rally and drove in the winning run in the New York Mets’ 6-5 win that forced a seventh game.

The Mets won the final game 8-5 and Boston’s streak of no championships since 1918 continued. That drought ended in 2004.

Buckner wasn’t the only Red Sox player who failed in the last two games of the 1986 Series. To focus on just one play is “the ugly part of sports,” he said.

“I don’t think that in society in general that’s the way we should operate. What are you teaching kids? Not to try because if you don’t succeed then you’re going to buried, so don’t try?”

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 5 1/2 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.

“You can look at that series and point fingers in a whole bunch of different directions,” Buckner said. “We did the best we could to win there and it just didn’t happen and I didn’t feel like I deserved” so much blame.