BOSTON – There were a lot of champions at Fenway Park on Tuesday. And if there is one thing one champion can appreciate, it's another.
"Attitude, man, attitude," said David Ortiz, the Red Sox's World Series MVP and legendary clutch performer. "Intensity. And attitude."
Ortiz was talking about the national champion UConn basketball team. Shabazz Napier, who grew up in Roxbury, not far from Fenway Park, and his teammates took their places among champions on Tuesday night.
"It's crazy how much basketball can get you," Napier said in front of the Red Sox's dugout. "The Red Sox are playing the Yankees and I'm here to throw out the first pitch."
Napier was goofing around with forward Tyler Olander, who used to pitch in high school, about curveballs and such, but he kept it simple when he took the mound about 7 p.m. He took the ball from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and with a quick, rocking delivery threw it to Red Sox catcher David Ross. The rest of the Huskies applauded and the crowd roared as Ross brought the ball out and gave Napier a hug.
The UConn women's team was originally scheduled to join the men at Fenway, but canceled Tuesday morning, citing an "unforeseen" conflict. No one at UConn would say what that conflict was.
"The team feels awful as it would have been a great moment for UConn," read a statement from UConn. "The men are still scheduled to head up there and hopefully the Red Sox will consider having us at a later date."
Major league players watch college basketball. They fill out brackets and watch a lot of the NCAA Tournament during spring training. Both the Yankees and Red Sox were about to open their season when the Huskies reached the Final Four.
"They played with an awful lot of confidence," Red Sox manager John Farrell said, "and you could see that there was such momentum, regardless of the seeding they had, there was nothing that was going to stop them. More than anything, the energy they played with and confidence they played with, that was evident when they went onto the court."
Said Joe Girardi, the Yankees' manager: "They were never intimidated. They believed in themselves and they were relentless."
Derek Jeter, the Yankees' longtime captain, followed the tournament closely until his team, Michigan, was eliminated in the Elite Eight. He watched some of the UConn-Kentucky final, however. All he has heard and read of Napier impresses him.
"You miss 100 percent of the shots you don't take in basketball," Jeter said. "It's the same thing. I play a game where you fail a lot. You can't be afraid of it, you try to remember the times you were successful and think about those times when you're in those situations. You can't have a lot of success if you're afraid to fail."
Jeter, who has played his entire 20-year career with the Yankees and helped win five World Series, was also impressed with the way Napier stayed at UConn.
"Loyalty is big. I've always been a believer in loyalty," he said. "You have to have priorities, and stick to them. Going and finishing school was a priority for him and I was happy he did it."
Ortiz, who has three championship rings, said he was looking forward to meeting Napier, "giving him a hug and saying 'what's up.' … To be a championship team, you need somebody to step up and he did a remarkable job."
Napier, a two-time national champ, returned the compliment.
"To play here, you've got to have a lot of passion," he said. "Fans are going to be on you. If you're not playing well, they're going to be on you. They expect so much from you. That's what Boston's all about. We're the home of champions. We want so much for our teams and they bring it every year."
Girardi, like Kevin Ollie, followed a highly successful predecessor, Joe Torre. The Yankees missed the postseason in Girardi's first year, 2008, and won the championship in his second. The parallel to Ollie is obvious.
"Whenever a new coach comes in there's going to be some changes because we're all wired different," Girardi said. "But [Kevin Ollie] got them to buy in and play the way he wanted them to play and lo and behold they have another national championship. … The first thing Joe [Torre] told me, 'be yourself, don't try to be something that you're not.' And you can be tested. You come from an organization that has had success and you don't have that success in your first year, you can be tested. You have to believe in yourself. Obviously, Kevin Ollie believed in who he was, and what he was doing and the players bought in and it worked. "
Napier and his teammates – Ryan Boatright, DeAndre Daniels and Omar Calhoun did not make the trip – walked onto the field about 5:45 p.m. Terrence Samuel, Tor Watts, athletic trainer James Doran and video coordinator Dave Kaplan had Yankees hats on.
"An elderly woman told them to take them off," Napier said. "That's a true Boston fan right there."
Napier, who will now enter the NBA draft, said it would be "crazy" if he got the chance to wear the green and white of the Celtics. It would be quite a thing for a kid from Roxbury. When he took the mound, he saw yet another smile on his mother's face. That's what Napier was pitching for.
"That's where I'm from," Napier said. "And I want people to know that. I could have been known 'from Boston,' but people don't realize that Boston is quite big. Roxbury is a little part of Boston that a lot of kids don't come out of. I want people to know that I'm not only from Boston, but from Roxbury. If you give a kid a chance, good things can happen. I realized that at a young age and I've been blessed with a lot of opportunities I want to help out the little kids who were in my shoes, who don't have people to push them and motivate them."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun