Baseball (especially Boston baseball) needs fans back

A look at Jersey Street outside Fenway Park just an hour before their opener on Friday against the Orioles. Photo by Bill Burt

BOSTON – It is a brisk, sunny, ho-hum morning here in early April.

Very little traffic. Very few people. And, probably most noticeable, very little buzz.

The schedule, thanks to a rainout, says it is Opening Day for your Boston Red Sox. And, technically, it is Game 1 on April 2.

But this is not Opening Day. This is "opening day."

Signs are everywhere. There is fresh paint on Jersey Street. The peanuts and sausage carts are ready to go. So is the guy selling programs.

“It’s not good,” says the guy standing on a 12-inch high wooden structure hawking Red Sox game-day programs. “Nobody’s here. Nobody’s buying. It is what it is. We have to try and make the best of it.”

When it comes to complaining about crowds, lines, traffic and closed quarters, I’m a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Except on Opening Day. It’s one day among a few that I embrace the craziness because of the pregame “buzz.”

There was none of that today, though, because it takes several thousand New Englanders to create that.

Joanne Kane of Framingham has been coming to Fenway Park for Opening Day since 1984, when she first bought season tickets.

She has her camera strapped around her neck as she walks out of the Red Sox Team Store on Jersey Street, 30 feet from the outside the Fenway Park wall.

“It’s not ideal having to deal with the pandemic,” says the 63-year-old Kane. “But I am excited a little bit. I always am when the season begins -- even if this is a little different.”

Not everything is overshadowed on this opening day around Fenway Park.

Xander Bogaerts, one of the great guys in Boston sports, played in his eighth opening day.

Always smiling Alex Cora, a beloved man in Boston, the Midas touch guy from 2018, is back.

There were a smattering of fans – 4,500 tickets were distributed – cheering as both Orioles and then Red Sox rosters and starting lineups were announced, one by one.

The organ helped, too.

Cora, by far, got the loudest ovation of all the 60-plus names shouted over the public address system.

But what makes this old barn special is the atmosphere -- green grass, Green Monster, the catcher’s mitt catching a loud fastball, the “beee-ahh heee-ahh” hucksters, the kids wearing gloves, the father-son or father-daughter combos, and the crew watering the field, among other things.

The bodies on top of bodies -- we could've used the body heat today! -- is what makes Fenway Park the greatest place to watch a game, sans comfort, in the world. Especially on this particular day -- the 121st consecutive year the Red Sox have had an opening day.

I get it. Every sport is suffering without fans, which really means a full house of screaming nuts.

The Bruins aren’t the same. Neither are the Celtics. Fans bring energy to sporting events. In Boston it’s more like rocket fuel.

But baseball is hurt the worst. The roar is missing after a big play or big hit or big strikeout.

The Red Sox never got going offensively on Friday, getting only two hits in the 3-0 loss to the Orioles.

Would a full-house have made a difference? Maybe.

At least they might've pushed the Orioles a bit, which never happened.

Baseball needs all of its fandom back. Everybody outside of the sport, claiming to be a former fan, has filled the baseball complaint box.

But Red Sox baseball really, really needs its fans back.

"Am I excited about baseball being back? Yes," says Ms. Kane.

"As for the Red Sox? I'm not sure yet. Give me some time."

You can email Bill Burt at bburt@eagletribune.com.

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