Neil Diamond – Sweet Caroline

Sweet Caroline
Year :
The Monkees / Billy Joel / Michael Buble

The Boston Red Sox are your 2013 World Series Champions. After one of the worst collapses in MLB history to end the 2011 season, and a 2012 campaign that saw them lose 93 games while finishing last in the American League East, the Red Sox are the best team in baseball, and they did it with team chemistry, timely pitching and hitting, a great coach, and most importantly, the power of Neil Diamond.

Wait, what was that last part?

Okay, maybe not the last part.

Listen, this Red Sox team is a great story, and for reasons that reach outside of sports more than most great stories in sports history. When it comes to our teams here in New England, there is enough negativity most of the year that we should take these moments of celebration and embrace them. We should take the opportunity to take a break from ripping on the teams that have given sports fans in this area a 12-year run that is unmatched in history. And I will do that. Right after I get this off my chest.

I hate this song.

This is not a unique opinion, and it’s not breaking news to report that many Boston fans share in my contempt of Neil Diamond’s love for childhood, but for those of you unsure how we got here, let me give you a brief history.

Sometime in the late 90′s, someone made the decision to play “Sweet Caroline” during a game that the Sox were winning. It quickly became a staple at Fenway for any such game, until 2002 when it started getting played at every game, regardless of the score. I have no idea if the ownership group had any say over this decision, but it’s certainly associated with them. John Henry and company bought the Red Sox in 2002, and while they have brought three championships to Boston, they also brought about the era of the “pink hat” fan (a somewhat sexist designation for fans who don’t actually care or know about the sport), a perceived concern for ratings over on-field success (they also own NESN, the local sports network that broadcasts most Red Sox games), and¬†oversaw a sellout streak at Fenway that is dubious at best. How much they are to blame for all of this is a matter of some debate, (they certainly deserve some of it) and somewhere along the line, “Sweet Caroline” became a symbol of it all. The vitriol for the song is palpable in most situations. A friend of mine was playing a set of covers at a local bar during Game Three of the series, and played Sweet Caroline BY REQUEST, which led half of the fans at the bar to audibly groan throughout the entirety of the song.

It’s not a terrible song, I suppose. Like a lot of Neil Diamond’s music, it’s catchy and simple enough that anyone can sing along to it (there was a reason it was popular baseball games in the first place), even if there is nothing particularly interesting or noteworthy about the song. You could make the case that it didn’t really deserve any of the emotion aimed at it over the past few years, good or bad, but to quote another New England sports legend, it is what it is.

I don’t know what to do with the song, at least as far as the Red Sox are concerned. If the Red Sox stopped playing it, certainly a number of people would be upset, but at least an equal number will be irritated with every playing of the song for the rest of their lives. It’s Boston. It’s New England. We can be a prickly bunch. But right now, for a few days, maybe we should all enjoy it a little bit more.

It’s not uncommon to hear someone talk or write about the meaninglessness of sports, and despite my love for them and the teams I cheer for, I tend to agree most of the time. Most games, most weeks, most years, the outcome doesn’t really matter. During this time of the year, millions of Americans live and die multiple times every Sunday, and almost all of them go about the rest of their week in the exact same fashion regardless of how their teams ended their day. But there are exceptions to every rule, and this year was one of them in Boston.

I know the connection between Boston sports and the Marathon bombing have been beaten into the ground at this point, but it’s with good reason. In the immediate aftermath, the city used sporting events as a way to have few precious hours of normal, day-to-day life while working to get a handle on everything that happened. (Only the most cynical observer could watch this clip from the first game held after the bombings and not feel something.) In the months that followed, a storyline developed with the Red Sox that connected the attack with the team, how the team came together for each other and for the city. There may be some truth to this, but after listening to the interviews some of the players gave after the World Series, it’s clear they felt a good chunk of this camaraderie in spring training, well before the bombing. It’s a nice story, but it’s disingenuous to say that the Red Sox wouldn’t have won it all had events of April 15th, 2013 not taken place. There’s no way of knowing such a thing.

What I do know is this. Since that tragic day, I’ve met a handful of people who were in some way involved with what happened. People who were injured in the attack. People who helped those that were injured. People who were simply there and now live with a memory they never could have imagined. For many of them, one trait that became clear to me was how sports gave them a way to stand up and fight back.¬† These were regular, salt-of-the-earth types, not politicians or FBI agents or anyone with a clear way to help repair the city or track down it’s attackers. These were people who hung on to the “Boston Strong” slogan but had little-to-no way of expressing that sentiment outside of the teams they loved. Whether any team won or lost on a given night did nothing for the investigation into the attackers or the cleanup and rebuilding of the affected area. But, the struggle these teams went through gave Boston something to identify with. Generally, the games meant nothing. Personally, they meant everything.

“Sweet Caroline” is a 44 year old song that had nothing to do with baseball until the Red Sox felt like playing, and no reason to hate it until the fans decided they did. Maybe, just for a few days, while a team and it’s city celebrates everything they’ve been through over the past season, we can forget what we think about the song, and just be happy to have a chance to sing it together.

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Matthew Belair (@14Belair42) grew up on the classic rock of his parents and the 90s alt-rock of his older sister before discovering other genres to love, all of which are cool, hip, and in no way embarrassing to admit publicly.

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