BRADENTON -- Tony Walsh's father battled colon cancer for two years before passing away in December 2004.
He fought the disease long enough to see his beloved Boston Red Sox finally win the franchise's first World Series title since 1918.
That's what it means to be a Red Sox fan for the younger Walsh, originally from Marshfield, Mass.
"I could share it with my dad," Walsh said. "He really couldn't walk that well towards the end. So that's what it means to be a Red Sox fan. It's a generational thing. ... We put a pennant on my grandfather's grave. He never got to see the Red Sox win. Never ever, ever, ever, ever. And then he had passed away for 28 years. It's pride."
On Thursday, Walsh was one of the 8,455 fans who sold out McKechnie Field as the Red Sox defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates, 5-1, in a Grapefruit League contest. It was the third-largest crowd in the history of the park.
Many of the fans wore Red Sox gear, including Walsh, who treated his high school basketball coach, Bob Fisher, to Thursday's game.
Walsh, who now lives in Texas, made a weeklong trip to Florida's Suncoast, staying on Siesta Key and catching some games at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers and McKechnie Field.
Thursday's stop was perfect because it enabled him to catch a top-level Boston lineup that featured stars Shane Victorino, Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval and others likely to start Opening Day.
The New England fan base is a rabid bunch hungry for championships.
Another Boston fan, Bradenton resident Roger Weymans, had the day off from work. He made sure to attend the game because he didn't see the Sox last year when they played in Bradenton.
"There's nothing better than the Boston area, Boston sports," said Weymans, from Manchester, N.H.
It's something the players notice. Boston outfielder Shane Victorino spent eight seasons playing in Philadelphia, another city known for its passionate fans.
"It's what it's all about," Victorino said. "You want to play in a place where fans come out and support you. I've been lucky to play in places like Philly (and) here. ... I would say there's a little something about East Coast baseball. These people, they live and die by their sports, and it's just something that's a special thing. I would rather play in a place where people show up, people have their opinion, people cheer, they boo, but it's all a part of what it is. I would rather do that than go somewhere where there is no fans giving you any kind of love."
Victorino said it's even great during spring training to see the support.
"They've got a big following," said Victorino about Red Sox fans. "I remember playing against those guys, the Red Sox, in interleagues. They always had a big following. Always had Red Sox fans everywhere. After we won the World Series in '13, that offseason, the recognition and love of Red Sox fans is everywhere."
Fisher, Walsh's basketball coach, has been a Red Sox fan for many years, suffering through the low periods of the 1960s and 1970s before Boston made an appearance in the 1986 World Series. That series is known for Bill Buckner's fielding gaffe in Game 6 that led to a New York Mets comeback and eventual Fall Classic crown.
"Going to a game is like going to a wedding," said Fisher, who is originally from Rockland, Mass., and resides in Clearwater. "Everybody is enjoying themselves and having fun. You're celebrating. ... There's something about if you go to Boston, you have to see Fenway Park."
Walsh -- who also brought his family to the game, including his wife, a Pirates fan -- said he sees the Red Sox in person when they visit Arlington, Texas, to play the Rangers. He'll also catch games in Houston when Boston stops by and makes about three games back at Fenway Park. But this was his first spring training experience at McKechnie, which he said he prefers over the spring home of the Sox, which is referred to as "Fenway South" in Fort Myers.
"I prefer it to JetBlue, I'll tell you that right now, because it's quaint," said Walsh about McKechnie.