Fenway Park: King of the full house
Sox expected to break Tribe's consecutive home sellout streak
BOSTON -- They come home a little beat up, fresh off getting swept at Tropicana Field by the Rays, and in the midst of a five-game losing streak. But just the fact that the Red Sox are home is reason enough to perk them up.
There is the obligatory home-field advantage that just about every team experiences, and then there is the Fenway Park factor, which is something quite different.
When Red Sox players talk about playing in front of a packed house for every home game, they are not exaggerating. The Sox are expected to get consecutive sellout No. 402 for Tuesday night's game against the Blue Jays. In fact, May 15 will mark the five-year anniversary of when that impressive streak started.
"The sellout streak is not a Red Sox record; it is a Red Sox fans record," wrote Red Sox president/CEO Larry Lucchino in an e-mail. "We try not to forget that. And we know a full house generates the electricity, excitement, spirit and noise that helps to motivate our players. Just ask them. It is but another reason Boston and Fenway Park are a great place to play Major League Baseball."
In case you haven't guessed, Red Sox Nation has never been more passionate. In fact, this could be a historic season for the Fenway crowd.
Assuming the streak stays live -- and there's little reason to think it won't -- the Sox are on track to set an all-time record of consecutive sellouts on Sept. 3 against the Orioles.
That would mark the 456th straight capacity crowd, which would snap the mark set by the Indians, who packed Jacobs Field -- now known as Progressive Field -- for 455 straight home dates from June 12, 1995, until April 4, 2001.
Rain or shine, cold or warm, weekday, weeknight or weekend, Fenway is filled.
"You see what's happening now, and you kind of figure it's always been that way. We're very fortunate," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "I can remember coming here in April [as a player], when it's cold or going to Wrigley. It's not always been packed like this, so we're fortunate. We play in a place where everything you do, there's interest. Rather than complain, I guess this would be the flip side of it. Every game seems important. Day game after a night game, you need to show up and play, because there's a lot of people that are going to come in here and care about how you play. That's a good thing."
Ironically, while Francona was in the process of giving the above quote before a recent home game, his words were partially drowned out by shrieking fans -- outside the window of the interview room -- who were greeting players as they arrived in the parking lot three hours before game time.
That is a common sight every Fenway day, with fans lined up outside the small parking lot simply to greet players upon their arrival to work.
After spending the past couple of weeks on the disabled list and then playing in rehab games at Pawtucket, R.I., and Buffalo, third baseman Mike Lowell looks forward to experiencing Fenway fervor again when he returns to the lineup on Tuesday night.
"This is an event. It's not just a game [at Fenway]," said Lowell. "There's a lot more that goes on here."
It's hard not to think there is some correlation between the crowds and the way the Sox have played at home over the past five years. From 2003-07, the Sox were an aggregate 261-144 at home, which is a winning percentage of .645.
"I think guys really appreciate that, at least for now, we know we're going to play in front of a packed house," said Lowell. "Except for the young guys, I think most of the guys in here have played for some teams that maybe didn't draw as well. I think you really appreciate a full crowd because the atmosphere changes. There is a different buzz when the stadium is full, and I don't think the numbers lie. Most teams play better at home, but we play really well at home. I think that's proof right there."
Though Boston has been a baseball town above all else since 1967, the popularity was never what it is right now.
Dick Bresciani's official title for the Red Sox is vice president of publications and archives. Unofficially, he is the resident historian of the club. In other words, Bresciani can remember so many seasons when selling out a given game -- let alone an entire season -- was hardly something you could expect.
"I remember that 1978 was our first two million year," said Bresciani, referring to the attendance for an entire home season. "We had the '75 World Series, which really energized everybody, and we had big attendance in '76, but we had a bad beginning to the year and fell apart early. In '77, there were big expectations, so things got better. And then the two million started."
|"The sellout streak is not a Red Sox record; it is a Red Sox fans record."|
|-- Red Sox president/CEO Larry Lucchino, on the Fenway Park sellout streak|
Last season, the Red Sox surpassed three million fans for the second time in three years.
Even when Boston fell in love with the slugging teams of the mid to late '70s -- filled with stars like Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, Dwight Evans, Fred Lynn and Carlton Fisk -- there was a limit to the fan support.
"You would have a lot of times in April and in early May, with our New England weather, and then, of course, you'd have September, where if you were kind of not right up at the top, you'd get lousy weather and people will hold off and say, 'Well, I don't need to buy those tickets way ahead of time, because let's wait and see. There will be seats available,'" said Bresciani. "The weather could always get bad April, early May and September. We were always faced with that because there wasn't the feeling of, 'God, we've got to buy our tickets early or we're not going to get tickets.'"
The weather patterns of New England have not changed in the least. It still gets cold early and late in the season. But the culture of the Red Sox has changed.
Not only has the team won the World Series twice in the past four years, but the new ownership -- which came on in 2002 -- continues to make the fan experience at Fenway a better one.
"I think [the] new ownership has done a great job with the ballpark and the fan-friendly atmosphere, even though we tried to have that before," said Bresciani. "There's a lot of new things we've done around the ballpark, from Yawkey Way right into the ballpark, and it's made it a fun place to go. The people have high expectations with the kind of players we've had the last five or six years. Everybody says, 'We have to buy our tickets early, we want those tickets, whether it's April, September or whatever,' because they want to have a good time and see a good team."
At Fenway Park, a player simply doesn't experience the "dog days." There is just too much adrenaline flowing.
"It helps you win ballgames," said closer Jonathan Papelbon. "It helps you when you're dragging late in the ballgame. When the intensity of the fans comes up, it helps you win games, no doubt. It shows you that they're committed, so we have to be committed. We feed right off of our fans, there's no doubt."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.