The Pink Hats are Taking Over, Part II

BD_pinkhat.jpgIn Part One we addressed the “Pink Hat Phenomenon.” Today we look at how we got here by examining the Fenway Experience.

Has it really been only six seasons since Henry, Werner, Lucchino et al. took over ownership reins of the Red Sox? Anyone old enough to remember Reid Nichols will remember that the previous ownership had a simple policy in regards to the “fan experience” at Fenway: Open gates. Watch game.

Now it’s Monster Seats, Yawkey Way as an attraction, “Sweet Caroline” in the eighth and an open-air concourse in right. It all began with a simple gesture on Opening Day, 2002.

On that day, the very first person to greet fans as they passed through the turnstiles was none other than John Henry. As recounted in our friend Seth Mnookin’s book, Feeding the Monster, fans weren’t exactly sure what to make of this, much like encountering a smiling face on the T. The next day, the players and coaches joined Henry in welcoming fans to Fenway.

So began the remaking of the Red Sox from dour and sullen (Messrs. Offerman and Everett) to cuddly and lovable (Nomah!, Petey! And, of course, Manny who has gone from sullen to lovable so many times it’s hard to keep track.) That the players themselves weren’t really all that friendly hardly mattered. The repackaging of the Red Sox was under way, and it should be pointed out, most of the changes made by the owners have been overwhelmingly positive.

Let’s review three separate Fenway trips spanning 23 years to illustrate the change.

Trip 1: 1984, first visit to Fenway. The game was notable for two things: Dwight Evans capped a hitting-for-the-cycle performance with an extra-inning home run that beat the Mariners, and four incredibly inebriated stock brokers sitting behind me who scared the beejeebus out of my mother. What was most amazing to these 10-year-old eyes was that they kept getting more beer very late into the night.

(Question: How popular would Dewey be today, and would it be possible to have Deeeeewey and Yooook chants? The mind reels.)

Trip 2: 2003, first time back in over five years. Fenway is awash in red and blue t-shirts, each bearing a player’s last name. Some for Ramirez, some for Nixon, most for Nomar and a lot for Hillenbrand. (The patron saint of the Pink Hats?). It was a college football atmosphere and it was great. “Sweet Caroline” was still fresh, the Rally Karaoke Guy was still a big hit (no, really), and everyone in the stands was rocking with every pitch.

Trip 3: 2007, two tickets in the right field grandstand purchased through a ticket broker ($90, plus fees), wait at the concession stand for a beer and a dog (35 minutes, or an inning and-a-half), having to sit next to 40-something sisters in matching pink Varitek jerseys who kept looking for Wally (painful).

Sure, these are three random encounters seen through one person’s perspective that neatly illustrate the evolution of Fenway. Step One: Much like every other ballpark in the 1980s, only older. Step Two: A communal experience, not unlike a Saturday afternoon in Lincoln, Nebraska. Step Three: Pink Hat hell.

Don’t be shy. Share your Fenway experiences over the years in the comments section.

Coming Next Week: NESN.