Commentary

Baseball music as important as hot dogs

Updated: May 1, 2010, 9:38 AM ET
By Jeff Goldberg | Special to Page 2

BOSTON -- Where it began, Megan Kaiser can't begin to know when.

It wasn't the spring. Kaiser remembers that much. But as spring became the summer in 2003, the legend of "Sweet Caroline" at Fenway Park began growing strong.

"We didn't play it every game at that point," said Kaiser, the advertising manager and game-day music programmer for the Boston Red Sox from 2003-07. "We were still warming up to it. Toward the end of 2003, we were winning all the time and there was this constant fervor happening. There was a tangible feel to the stadium. We started playing it every game, win or lose, rain or shine. It almost became the battle cry."

[+] EnlargeNeil Diamond
Elsa/Getty ImagesNeil Diamond sings his song 'Sweet Caroline' in the eighth inning as the Boston Red Sox play the Yankees.

Good times never seemed so good than two weeks ago on Opening Night at Fenway.

With the Red Sox rallying to take the lead over the Yankees heading into the bottom of the eighth, the baseball diamond took a backseat to Neil Diamond. The singer/songwriter finally obliged the Red Sox's long-standing wishes and performed live the iconic ode that has become as much a staple at Fenway as the Pesky Pole, with fans rising as one every night to shout its jaunty refrain, "So good! So good! So good!"

"I think it stands on its own," Kaiser said. "It's a regular radio song. It's AM gold. It's not a song that was written for the purpose of sing-along, no sports in mind. It happened of its own accord, and it's blossomed into this massive tradition. All the fans were on the same page."

Fenway Park is hardly alone in ritualizing non-traditional ballpark music. In perhaps the oddest baseball marriage of all, "Cotton Eyed Joe" by Rednex (a Swedish band, naturally) has jangled its way through Yankee Stadium on a nightly basis since the mid-1990s. A more-appropriate southern setting of Baltimore and Atlanta welcomes John Denver's "Thank God I'm a Country Boy."

And then there's the strange Journey of "Don't Stop Believing," which was the theme to the White Sox's 2005 championship run and is now entrenched at Dodger Stadium, even though the song's creator, Steve Perry, is a die-hard Giants fan.

Introducing a rival's signature sound did not faze Fenway Park's Kaiser back in 2003. A native of Hazardville, Conn., Kaiser resurrected a nostalgic tune for Red Sox fans. When Todd Walker blasted a game-tying three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth of a late September game at Fenway to help secure a Wild Card berth, he rounded the bases to the unmistakable blast of the Brass Bonanza, the rousing victory theme of the defunct Hartford Whalers.

"That was my baby," Kaiser said. "When I was a kid, that was it. If you were playing kickball with the kids in the neighborhood and you rocked one out of the yard, you ran around the bases going, 'Bomp!-Bomp!-Bomp! Ba-ba-bomp-bomp-bomp!" To me, that sound was synonymous with sports victory."

To this day, three years since Kaiser left her post, Brass Bonanza remains on the Red Sox playlist.

"My boyfriend said, 'It sounds like a bad game-show song,' but the feedback was nothing but positive," Kaiser said. "It was, 'Ah, hockey in the '80s.' That's when hockey was hockey, missing-some-teeth hockey. They were happy to feel that nostalgia. The Whalers are gone, but the song is unspoiled. You feel a little warmth for the Whale, even if you're a Bruins fan.

"It's something that's specifically the Red Sox now. It's nice that I had a hand in bringing that to be."

Jeff Goldberg, formerly the Red Sox beat writer for The Hartford Courant, is a freelance writer for the Sports Media Exchange, a national freelance network.