“Sweet Caroline” has probably never been played as often as it was last week. Neil Diamond’s 1969 hit has been closely associated with the Red Sox’s home field, Fenway Park — and thus, the city of Boston — since the mid-90s.
The song has become as much a fixture at Fenway as the Green Monster, the towering 40-foot wall in the ballpark’s left field. While most Bostonians admittedly do not know how “Sweet Caroline” came to be played during the eighth inning, we loudly sing along.
Baseball teams around the country played “Sweet Caroline” in solidarity with the people of Boston. The dearest tribute was hearing the song belted out by our legendary rivals, the New York Yankees, and seeing a sign hung on Yankee Stadium by the team that read “New York hearts Boston” with the Yankee and Red Sox logos.
People from outside of big sports cities cannot truly understand the significance of these small gestures. Sports teams are part of the very fabric of their lives. We almost religiously identify with our teams.
Baseball is more than just a sporting event to us. It is America’s pastime — a game with a rich, 150-year history of storied triumphs and defeats that builds a sense of pride and unity even through difficult times. Bostonians can list every one of the Sox’s World Series wins like a catechism.
The following Friday would have been the first home game since the bombing, and Bostonians anticipated a somber mood in honor of the three victims. But instead of waking up to the day of a game, locals woke up to the news that yet another tragedy, the murder of an MIT police officer, had occurred.
The Greater Boston area was locked down for the day, with business halted and 4.5 million people stuck indoors. When Commissioner Ed Davis finally announced, “We got him,” the entire city erupted into celebration reminiscent of Boston’s 2004 World Series victory.
Residents spilled out into the streets, cheering every passing police car and jubilantly mobbing law enforcement officers now standing at ease.
Major League Baseball released a video showing the shared celebration at ballparks around the country. Fans waved American flags and posters reading “Boston Strong.”
The next day, the Red Sox finally played their first home game since the tragedy. While those in attendance still mourned, there was an air of relief. Law enforcement and city officials were honored at the game, surviving victims threw out the first pitch, and Sox favorite David “Big Papi” Ortiz gave an impassioned “thank you” to a roaring applause.
Diamond himself even made an appearance to lead fans in singing his beloved tune. After one of the darkest weeks in Boston’s nearly 400-year history, it was a great relief to reach the end and sing that “good times never seemed so good.”