Dennis Eckersley pitches for the Red Sox during a June 1980 game at Yankee Stadium. His debut for Boston was a memorable one, pitching into the 10th inning during Opening Day at Fenway Park in 1978. AP file photo

Last Thursday was supposed to be Opening Day at Fenway Park. A massive American flag would’ve been draped over the Green Monster as the Green Mountain Boys from Vermont executed a flyover with their brand-new F35s.

Instead, the ballpark was eerily quiet, closed and locked up tight as we all stayed home to help dampen the spread of a deadly pandemic.

Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley figures he’s been part of more than 40 major league openers, going back to his 1975 rookie season with the Cleveland Indians. He’s worked the last 18 as part of NESN’s broadcasts.

This year, instead of sitting in the booth above home plate, he stayed at home and watched “Tiger King” on Netflix.

“I watched it,” said Eckersley. “What else are we supposed to do? I did my closet. Went through and bagged up all the stuff I haven’t worn in a long time.”

Like the rest of us, Eck has been trying to find things to do during this new age of staying home to stay safe. Unlike the rest of us, he knows what it’s like to stand on the mound when baseball returns to Fenway for the start of a new season.

He did it for the first time on April 14, 1978, in one of the most memorable Fenway openers ever.

“I’d never seen anything like it in Cleveland,” said Eckersley, who had been the Opening Day starter for the Indians two years earlier. “Opening Day is the only day they get crowds like that. At Fenway it was every day. What an experience.”

And what a performance. Eckersley didn’t get a decision in the ’78 Fenway opener – even though he pitched into the 10th inning. You read that right. Eck faced 40 batters but was taken out by manager Don Zimmer with two on and two out in a 4-4 game, as the sellout crowd of 34,747 roared its approval for the 23-year old pitcher the Red Sox had acquired at the end of March.

“I got a standing ovation as I left the mound and I was like ‘This is awesome,’ ” said Eckersley. “Two weeks before that I didn’t even want to be traded.”

Red Sox fans were glad he was. And they were thrilled just a few minutes later on that April day when Jim Rice drove in Butch Hobson with a two-out, walk-off single.

It’s the type of moment we hope for when we go to a game, moments that remain on hold for now. Moments that we will relish even more when we get to leave our protective masks at home and head to Fenway.

“You take for granted what you do,” said Eckersley. “You really do. I’ve been doing this for more than 40 years now. I think we’ll have a much greater appreciation for all of this when we start up again.

“I think It’ll be like being a child again. It’ll be such a relief going back, like ‘Ooh, it’s over.’ I don’t really know what I’m going to feel but I can’t wait to get back.”

The Red Sox, and baseball in general, are hoping that happens sometime this season. There have been times throughout history where baseball has helped America find its way back to normalcy. Through World War II and after 9/11 and, more locally, after the Boston Marathon bombing of 2013.

The game is waiting to bring us back together now. All we can do is wait. In that respect, Hall of Famers are no different than us.

Tom Caron is a studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on NESN. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.


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