Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

‘Good times never seemed so good’: How Fenway’s famous tunes and traditions make it a staple of the city

Rachel Choi
Illustration Rachel Choi

It’s a warm summer evening, and Fenway Park is filled to the brim with passionate Bostonians. With the eighth inning halfway over, the game is winding down and beloved Sox players will soon be stepping up to bat for the second to last time tonight. The familiar opening notes to Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” float out into the park. The crowd sings (or rather, yells) along to the classic “bum, bum, bum” and “so good, so good, so good!” 

“Sweet Caroline” has been a staple of Fenway Park since 1997, and of the eighth inning stretch at Fenway Park since 2002. Originally, an employee in charge of music at the ballpark, Amy Tobey, played the song in honor of a friend who had just given birth to a baby named Caroline. They played the song occasionally when the team did well for about five years after that. When Dr. Charles Steinburg became executive vice president of public affairs in 2002, he suggested that the song had “transformative powers” to lift the spirits of the crowd—it has played in Fenway right before the Red Sox step up to bat in the eighth inning ever since. 

“Sweet Caroline” means so much to the city that in the wake of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, Neil Diamond came to Fenway for the first home game afterward and performed the song live to Sox fans. Diamond pledged to donate his royalties from the nearly 600 percent surge in sales the week after he performed live to One Fund Boston, the charity set up to help victims of the bombing. Other ballparks around the country played the song in solidarity with the city of Boston that April.

In 2019, the Library of Congress chose “Sweet Caroline” to be preserved in the National Recording Registry due to its cultural significance.

Diamond’s legendary hit is not the only song Fenway is known for. Keep an ear out for the North American baseball classic “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” one inning earlier, and get ready for Boston’s unofficial anthem “Dirty Water” by The Standells if the Sox pull out a win.

Along with Patriot’s Day being a federally recognized holiday unique almost only to Massachusetts, every year on that third Monday in April since 1960, the Red Sox play a home game at 11:05 a.m.—the only morning game on the entire Major League Baseball schedule. This tradition, however, began back in 1903, when a morning Red Sox game drew almost seven times as many fans as the Braves’ game that afternoon. The two Boston baseball teams agreed to never compete against each other for attendance on Patriot’s Day again and alternated years until the Braves moved to Milwaukee. 

And the iconic nature of Fenway Park doesn’t stop with music—there are many well-known physical staples, too. 

Jutting out in right field is the bright yellow foul pole nicknamed Pesky’s Pole. Johnny Pesky, a shortstop and third baseman who played for the Red Sox from 7-7, hit only 17 home runs in his MLB career, and a mere six at Fenway Park. Why is the pole his namesake, then? The 302-foot distance from home plate makes it a closer target than the 380-foot stretch needed to clear straight away right field for a home run. 

Pesky, according to Red Sox pitcher Mel Parnell, often benefited from the shorter distance and hit a run just around the pole to win Parnell a game (though this story does not have much truth to it, as Pesky hit just one home run during a game where Parnell pitched, in the first inning, and the Detroit Tigers came back to win said game). 

Despite his lack of high home run statistics, Pesky was known for base hits and bunts with a high batting average. He was a major part of the team for 61 years as a player, coach, manager, broadcaster, and goodwill ambassador, all of which earned him the nickname “Mr. Red Sox.” 

The Sox formalized the name “Pesky’s Pole” in 2006 and retired his number two years after that. Today, fans with right field seats sign the pole to cement their names in Red Sox history with Johnny Pesky.

Another spot in Fenway Park gets some signatures, though these names can’t be seen from the stands. Underneath the Green Monster, the 37-foot 2-inch left field wall, players have left their names the first time they play in Boston as a rite of passage, dating back to 1946. 

The wall was built for business-minded privacy reasons (no free views of the game from Lansdowne Street!) in 1912 by original owner John I. Taylor. Then, though, it was only 25 feet tall and made of wood. It became more of the Monster we know today in 1934 post-fire, when they switched to the more fireproof building materials of concrete and tin, and in 1947, scraped all the advertisements off and painted green to match the rest of Fenway. The plastic seen today was added in 1975 and the seats on top debuted in 2003

Also known for its color at Fenway is one lone red seat in the bleachers, specifically Section 42, Row 37, Seat 21. The legend goes that during a June 9, 1946 game, the Red Sox’s Ted Williams saw fan Joe Boucher dozing off in that exact seat and decided to teach him a lesson by hitting the ball directly into the bleachers. This hit was (and still is) the longest home run in Fenway Park history, smacking Boucher in the head 502 feet away from home plate.

The Red Sox’s Fenway Park opened in 1912, and “America’s Most Beloved Ballpark” is still going strong. The nostalgia of “Sweet Caroline,” the uniqueness of the Green Monster, and the charm of the player-named staples keep fans from all teams passionate about the sport and history of baseball. 

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About the Contributor
Anna Knepley
Anna Knepley, Sports Editor
Anna Knepley (she/her) is a freshman journalism major from just outside of Baltimore, Maryland. She currently serves as the assistant sports editor. Outside of the Beacon, she can be found hanging out with friends, exploring the city and writing for the CPLA newsletter. 

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