AP NEWS

A Grand-slam Celebration

March 29, 2019

FITCHBURG -- Culling memories from half a lifetime ago, Linda Bourque recalled the beginning of her fascination with the Red Sox.

Her brother worked in the evening, often not arriving home until 11 p.m. A caring younger sister, Bourque would run a reel-to-reel tape machine, recording Sox games -- “Carl Yastrzemski was big at the time,” she says as a reference -- for her brother to review upon his return.

“We’d listen to every game,” Bourque said. “We were fans when there were no championships and they weren’t always winning.”

The ups were few. The downs were many. Being a Red Sox fan wasn’t always easy, she said.

How the times have changed.

Bourque and dozens of other Red Sox fans filled the Fitchburg Senior Center Thursday afternoon for an Opening Day event, celebrating the team’s 2018 World Series championship several hours before the Seattle Mariners’ Marco Gonzales delivered a pitch to Boston’s Andrew Benintendi to begin the BoSox’s 2019 campaign.

It was the second stop of the day in Fitchburg for the 30-pound trophy, having made an appearance at The Highlands nursing home during the morning. The city was one of myriad stops for the trophy this week, according to Fenway Park greeter John Lyons, one of two Red Sox employees charged with protecting the silver and gold memento on Thursday.

“It’s really quite a thrill to be selected to travel with it,” Lyons said. “You get to see the excitement and joy on people’s faces. It’s a pretty cool thing to see.”

The trophy appeared after a performance by Howie Newman, a musician and former journalist whose gigs included time at the Lowell Sun. Armed with an acoustic guitar and harmonica, Newman played songs with baseball roots; classics like “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” as well as tunes crafted for former Red Sox players like Johnny Damon and Doug Mientkiewicz.

Newman also supplied trivia questions based in America’s pastime and relayed stories from his time in journalism, including two of the darkest times for Red Sox Nation: the 1986 World Series and the 1978 AL East tiebreaker that saw the Yankees’ Bucky Dent belt a heartbreaking home run against Boston.

And sticking with the baseball theme, hot dogs and chips were served to attendees, as well Baby Ruth candy bars -- often said to be named after former Red Sox slugger Babe Ruth.

“It’s a very exciting day,” Fitchburg’s Kathy Reardon said. “It’s fun to be here singing along and seeing the trophy. I try to watch as many games as I can.”

Lyons noted that while New England sports fans have become somewhat spoiled over the last two decades with a dozen championships between four professional franchises, there’s usually someone who’s seeing a trophy for the first time. And on Thursday, that designation fell upon Georgie Rodriguez.

“I’ve never seen a trophy like this up close and personal. It’s very humbling to be here and seeing it,” the Fitchburg resident said. “I’ve been to Fenway Park once in my life and it was years ago, so having this here is wonderful. It’s an honor to see it.”

Follow Nick Mallard on Twitter @n_mallard.