The questions about how Red Sox Nation would receive Andrew Benintendi upon his return to Fenway Park as a member of the New York Yankees were in full force Friday, the day the latest rivalry series was due to begin.
The Boston crowd has a long history of booing former players who return in pinstripes: Johnny Damon returned to Fenway Park after signing a four-year, $52 million contract with the Yankees and was promptly met by boobirds and signs that called him a traitor and fans calling him Judas Damon — despite him tipping his cap to the fans and the Red Sox dugout. When Jacoby Ellsbury came back to Boston, it also was to boos, after he signed a seven-year, $153 million contract with the Bronx Bombers.
So by Friday morning, when former Red Sox fan favorite Brock Holt posted a photo on Instagram of the two during their days in Boston — with the hashtag #BooBenny — it was fair to wonder.
By the start of Friday’s game, Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts himself was weighing in.
“I would not expect boos,” Bogaerts said. “Like, come on man. I mean, it was a midseason trade. I get that it’s the Yankees, but I hope they don’t. He had a nice run here.”
To Bogaerts’ point, Benintendi was in a different situation than Damon or Ellsbury. The Red Sox traded Benintendi ahead of the 2021 season to the Kansas City Royals, who turned around and traded the outfielder to the Yankees at the deadline this year. While Damon and Ellsbury chose to sign with the Yankees, Benintendi did not.
And when he stepped up to the plate on Friday, Benintendi became part of a rare group of Yankees history: a player in pinstripes who received cheers at Fenway Park. The ovation followed a videoboard tribute, featuring his many highlights from his time in Boston, including the iconic game-saving catch from Game 4 of the 2018 ALCS en route to the team’s World Series championship.
The typically stoic Benintendi, 28, admitted before the opener that everything about this series — from arriving at the ballpark where he’d played every home game for the first five seasons of his major league career, to sitting in the cramped visitors clubhouse at Fenway Park, to being in the opposing dugout — felt off.
“It’s a little strange, obviously,” Benintendi said. “It’s the first time being back in over a year. I’m just taking it all in again.”
Benintendi last played a game in Fenway Park almost exactly two years ago, when he left a game against the Rays on Aug. 11, 2020, after hurting his rib cage. Boston traded him before spring training the next season, sending him to the Royals in a three-team trade. Benintendi was hurt for both series between the Red Sox and Royals during the 2021 season and was traded to New York before Boston played the Royals last week.
Now that he’s finally returning, Benintendi’s return to Boston has extra weight with the rivalry’s history now that he dons the iconic pinstripes.
“There’s a lot of attention in these games with the rivalry and everything that comes with it,” Benintendi said. “Obviously, we’ve been on that side of it, but to be on this side, we’ll see how it goes.”
Even his former manager did not want to see Benintendi given the typical reaction for a Red Sox-turned-Yankee.
“I know he’s playing for the Yankees, and it is what it is,” said Cora, who managed Benintendi in Boston in 2018 and 2019. “The rivalry and all that, but he’s a big part of what we did in 2018. That team, we won 108 games, 11 in October against great competition. And he was huge.”
The Red Sox team Benintendi faces now is very different from the team he played with during the World Series run in 2018. Both Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley — with whom Benintendi used to celebrate every victory with a dance in the outfield — are on different teams. Even Cora has left and come back — Ron Roenicke was the manager for Benintendi’s final season in Boston in 2020.
Benintendi and Cora remained close — when Boston rehired the manager in 2020 after his one-year suspension because of the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal, Benintendi FaceTimed Cora while chugging a beer to congratulate the Red Sox skipper. His subsequent trade to Kansas City, though, meant that Cora would not manage the outfielder again.
“I love that kid,” Cora said. “I’m looking forward to seeing him, giving him a big hug. He deserves a great ovation here.”
In the series so far, Benintendi has gone 2-for-7 with two runs, a double and a diving catch that triggered memories of his game-saving catch from the ALCS. Benintendi said there was not much he wanted to see in Boston that he had missed from his time in the city, but he was excited to eat at Bruegger’s Bagels, a national chain with multiple locations in the Boston area, but not in Kansas City or New York City.
Benintendi said he was looking forward to coming back “to be able to see a lot of the familiar faces I’ve seen in the past and play against some old teammates.
“Obviously, the connections I have with all those guys over there go beyond baseball.”