BANGOR – The guest of honor was flown into Bangor International Airport on a chartered plane, whisked to the Bangor Civic Center by limousine, and even given a police escort to an appearance before hundreds of adoring fans.
More than 1,000 people braved the December cold to stand outside the Bangor Auditorium and wait an extra 23 minutes past the 10:30 a.m. scheduled arrival to see the fashionably late invitee and pay their respects along with public officials.
Rock star? No. Famous actor? Guess again. Star athlete? You’re getting warmer. Well, as warm as can be expected when temperatures are in the 20s.
However, everyone felt a little warm and fuzzy on the inside as they caught a glimpse of the celebrated guest: the 2004 World Series trophy recently won by the world champion Boston Red Sox.
Although 90 percent or more of the fans filing past the gleaming, golden trophy were undoubtedly proud citizens of Red Sox Nation (most were wearing red-and-blue team attire and-or caps with big B’s on them), even subjects of the Evil Empire came to pay their respects.
“Oh boy. It was a lifetime opportunity to get a chance to experience history,” said Sgt. Gabe Rios, a New York Yankees fan and Maine Army National Guard recruiter from Waterville. “I’m a big baseball fan. I have to admit I’m a Bronx Bomber fan at heart, but I’ve never seen a World Series trophy up close before.”
Rios was one of several active military personnel and military family members allowed in to view the trophy ahead of the general public.
That was just fine with Rios’ 7-year-old son, Brandon, who hasn’t fallen under his dad’s pinstripe spell. He was proudly wearing a Sox T-shirt while eagerly awaiting the trophy.
While no players were on hand to greet Sox fans, the trophy was more than enough for most people. An unexpectedly large crowd of 2,500 – estimated by members of the traveling trophy tour – came out at 8 a.m. to pay homage in Presque Isle.
“We had just as many people up there in Presque Isle as we did in Providence, Rhode Island,” said Peter Nesbitt, a Wellesley, Mass., native and six-year Red Sox employee.
In Bangor, organizers had to shut the door on several people still waiting outside to get a glimpse of the trophy inside the Auditorium.
“I feel bad for the people who didn’t get in. It was sad to see people outside with their young children banging on the door,” said Steve Zirnkilton, a Seal Harbor resident who drove up along with wife Stephanie, son Stevie, and daughter Sarah.
Zirnkilton, who missed being one of those shut out by just a few seconds, was the last person in line – ironic, since he has a unique connection with the Red Sox organization.
In case the name doesn’t ring a bell, Zirnkilton is better known as “the voice” of Law and Order, the long-running NBC TV crime drama. He does the voiceover for the show’s well-known introduction, which ends with, “These are their stories.” He could become better known, at least among Sox fans, as the voice of another popular video production: New England Sports Network’s “Faith Rewarded,” which chronicles the 2004 Sox season.
“I’d done some auditions for Major League Baseball several months ago, but never heard back,” said Zirnkilton, who took son Stevie to see his first game at Fenway Park for his birthday last September. “My agent called and I guess I lucked out because they were looking for someone from New England to do it. I didn’t have to think about that one too long.”
Attending Saturday’s viewing was a “no-brainer” for the first person in line as well, Bangor native Tim Patchell.
“I’ve been planning this all week. I don’t know how I got so lucky, but I didn’t get here until 10 o’clock and I still got to be first,” said the avid Sox fan who brought along a white Sox cap and a few baseball cards, just in case. “I was kind of hoping there would be some Red Sox players here to sign some stuff, but I’m still thrilled to be here.”
Sox minority owner Les Otten, who used to own Sunday River ski resort in Newry, accompanied Nesbitt on the tour’s two-day Maine swing through Portland, Presque Isle, Bangor, Augusta, Bethel and Newry.
“The fans need to understand that football has the ability to require their players to make appearances, but no baseball contract allows us to require those due to our relationship with the union,” Otten said. “It’s all strictly voluntary or they get paid extra.”
The absence of players was commented on by many of the fans in attendance, but nobody seemed particularly put off.
“The thing is, really what matters is winning the championship, so I think it really is the trophy that takes center stage, as rightly it should,” said Gov. John E. Baldacci, who also accompanied the trophy on its tour. “That’s what people are here to see. Players will come and go, but that trophy is really what it’s all about.”
Baldacci said the depth of feeling fans have for the Red Sox was apparent to him when he was greeted by a former baby sitter whose father died before seeing his beloved Sox win it all.
“She just told me they went to his grave and brought some pennants with them,” he said.
Patchell, another example of a devout Sox fan, went through histrionics familiar to longtime, superstitious Sox fans during the playoffs.
“Me and my friends watched all the playoff games together at the same house on the same TV in the same seats,” he said. “I wore this [Manny Ramirez] shirt for the first three Yankee games, but then switched to a gray one and I kept that on the rest of the series. I only took it off when I showered.”
It looked like Sox outfielder Johnny Damon was on hand, but it turned out to be Jack Broderick, who came all the way up from South Portland.
“I had to work yesterday, so I missed the big [Portland] rally. There was no way of getting out of it,” said Broderick, a pianist in a band called Incident at Midnight. He sports long, dark brown hair and a recently trimmed beard.
“For awhile, before I shaved, I had a full beard and our lead singer would introduce me as Johnny Damon,” he said. “Between Damon and the ‘Passion of the Christ’ movie coming out, it was perfect timing for me.”
Since the Red Sox won the World Series, the trophy has made more than 100 stops on a whirlwind tour. It’s been to Florida, the Dominican Republic, and now each New England state.
“It makes three, sometimes five stops every day,” said Nesbitt, who has become the unofficial trophy valet. “I got to go to a Patriots game and then the Dominican Republic, which was even nicer.”
The well-traveled trophy has taken a few bumps on the road.
“Having it with Johnny Damon in Foxborough when he kind of took it and dove into the stands was harrowing, but it survived,” Nesbitt said. “It’s taken a few hits and a couple of flags get a little loose once in a while, but it’s still in great shape.”