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Red Sox Nation Comes Together for Opening Day at Fenway Park

Red Sox Nation Comes Together for Opening Day at Fenway Park
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SLIDE SHOW: Opening Day at Fenway

It’s pushing late afternoon on a Sunday in early April, and the lines have already started to form. There they are, legions of Red Sox fans standing outside Fenway Park, waiting for a new baseball season to begin, waiting to finally put another long winter behind them. Just as it’s been since the old stadium first opened its doors in 1912, spring’s arrival around here is marked in red and white.

It’s true that the streets around the park haven’t completely sprung to the new season. The flowers are slow to bloom, the tree buds not quite ready to pop, but Yawkey Way is another matter. At around 6:00, the gates open, people pour in, and the street comes to life with all the color and sound of a gorgeous warm-weather day. A four-piece brass band called Hot Tamale pumps the early-evening air with music, while fans dressed in jerseys betraying their ages (Fisk! Rice! Ortiz! Pedroia!) swirl around them, clutching new T-shirts, free magnetic schedules, and not-so-free sausages and plastic cups of cheap beer. Eight dollars for a brew? No problem.

There are other questions to ponder, too: like, is Opening Day the only event where it’s perfectly okay to dress like the Easter bunny and a Red Sox fan? Apparently. How else to explain this creature in a red jersey cloaked around a fuzzy outfit, with floppy ears poking out of a baseball cap, and two buck teeth? He draws stares, of course, and admiration from those who can’t quite find it in themselves to refuse the free balloon creations he hands out.

Two of his biggest fans, a couple of young women dressed in jeans, white home jerseys, and sandals, are adjusting to their gifts. “He said, ‘What do you want?’” beams one of them. “I said, ‘A hat.’” She points up, toward a towering intersection of red and blue balloons balancing atop her head: “I didn’t know it was going to be this big.”

Across the way, “Big League Brian” Dwyer is earning his own adoration. He looms over the crowd like a giant–which he is. Standing atop stilts and carrying a ball and a mitt, he moves easily through the throngs of people. “Can we take your picture?” asks one woman. “Sure … but only if you have a camera,” he quips. Later, he tosses long with a boy a fraction of his height.

Behind him, the Red Sox pro shop swells with customers pawing through a warehouse level of tchotchkes, memorabilia, and clothing. Girls dressed in shirts that say I only kiss Red Sox fans! try to find something else to add to their collections, while older, less enthusiastic shoppers seek out the exit. “Honey, it’s a madhouse in here!” blares one guy to his wife. Overseeing it all is a sullen-looking security guard stationed in an oversized chair in the shape of a giant baseball mitt.

Inside Fenway, spring has already passed. Twilight’s come and the big park lights are ablaze, illuminating a field so green that even with a bite to the April air, it feels like July. Those who’ve arrived early are playing their part in this familiar scene, flashing camera phones, flashing shiny new team programs, flashing nervous energy about the upcoming season. There’s the usual banter about the pitching (“Did we do enough for the bullpen?”), the offense (“Where are the bats?”), and, of course, how this year’s club stacks up against their archrivals, tonight’s opponents–the New York Yankees.

But this anxiety is mild stuff. The season is still perfect. There are no late-inning blowups to dissect. No big injuries to lament. No disappointing performances to rant about. Even pinstriped New York fans get only half-hearted boos. Instead, there’s rejoicing. For baseball. For having made it to Fenway. For the chance to dream again. In the stands, not far from the Sox dugout, Shana Fuller stands by her young son, waving and smiling like a teenager as she tries to catch the attention of a few Boston players for an autograph. “Youk!” she yells out. “Kevin!” She’s come from East Texas for this–a little reward Fuller’s given herself after finishing nursing school in 2009. She just may be the biggest Red Sox fan in her home state. “My sister tells me I’m not normal,” she says, panning the infield for recognizable faces. “She says no girl should love baseball this much.”

But then, her sister might understand if she were here, taking in a season’s worth of pageantry crammed into one night, complete with a pair of ceremonial F-16 jets buzzing overhead and a couple of surprise performances from Steven Tyler and Neil Diamond. The crowd roars, and Fenway officially comes out of hibernation. It’s only amplified when Boston’s Josh Beckett steps to the mound and fires a first-pitch strike to Derek Jeter. The wait is truly over. Winter has finally met its match.

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