They came for the sight of freshly mown grass gleaming under the stadium lights and the steep green cliff of the Wall. They came to hear the crack of the bat and the singsong “Heyyyy, Coke here!” They wore gloves in anticipation of a ball hit their way.
The season may have been a lost cause weeks ago, but that did not dampen the spirits of fans who came to Fenway Park Tuesday night for the penultimate home game.
Grizzled old-timers in beat-up caps they wore to see Ted, Yaz, Lynn, and Rice; kids in full uniforms who got tickets for their birthdays; fans who remember when “There’s pandemonium on the field!” did not refer to the latest dust-up between squabbling teammates. They came for the love of the game, even if it meant watching one of the most unlovable Red Sox teams in memory.
They were diehards like Tony Morgan, 73, whose first game was a loss to the New York Yankees in 1949. He cried over the wrenching World Series loss in 1986 and when the Yankees ended the Sox season in 2003.
“I still come out, I’ll always be a fan,” Morgan said. “This is a beautiful place to watch a game.”
Near Morgan sat Rich Arenberg, who started coming to games in 1953. He remembers sitting in the bleachers for 75 cents. He remembers the last game of 1966, when 15,632 fans turned out, according to team historian Dick Bresciani.
That was the year before the Impossible Dream of 1967 ignited an era of Red Sox contenders that have seen only seven losing seasons since, if you count this one.
“Red Sox fans were always long-suffering,” Arenberg mused as he prepared to stand for the national anthem. “Now they almost have a sense of entitlement. I’ve learned that the highs are higher if you live through the lows.”
Not everyone at the park Tuesday night has lived through the lows.
Ayden Beique of Leicester was at Fenway for the first time; the tickets were a present from his mother, Jill, for his 8th birthday.
“I decided it would be a neat experience,” she said.
Charles Kosa III of Tiverton, R.I., got tickets for his 11th birthday in June. Back then, Charles had hoped that this game, against the Tampa Bay Rays, division rivals and playoff contenders, would be more meaningful. His father, Charles Kosa Jr., was just happy he could take his son to his first game at Fenway.
“Though it is a disappointing season, the Red Sox are still the Red Sox. How can you not love baseball?” the father said. “Good season, bad season, whatever the case may be.”
The team, cognizant of the plunging popularity of the local nine, had put together a ceremony honoring the players of the magical 2004 season, which provided a bit of unintentional irony at the end of 2012.
Present at the ceremony was Terry Francona, who showed a knack for defusing clubhouse controversies as he led a team of high-priced stars with huge egos to the teams’s first world championship since 1918.
In 2012, new manager Bobby Valentine showed a knack for creating clubhouse controversies as he led a team of high-priced stars with huge egos to the team’s first losing season since 1997.
Former Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra received cheers from the crowd. In 2004, Garciaparra, who had grown disgruntled with his role amid injuries and statistical decline, was traded for lesser players who proved instrumental to the Red Sox playoff run and eventual championship.
In 2012, the Red Sox unloaded Kevin Youkilis, a former fan favorite grown disgruntled with his role amid injuries and statistical decline. The players the Red Sox acquired did not help the team at all. Youkilis’s new team, the Chicago White Sox, is in the hunt for the Central Division title.
But if Matt Wilson, 12, was upset by this reversal of fortune, it did not show. He had come with his family from Albany, N.Y., the way they always do. He does not even remember the 2004 team. This year may have been a disappointment, he said, “but we wouldn’t have missed this game for anything.”
Some diehards took solace in the promise of next year’s team and the possibility that the prospects on the field might become next year’s stars.
Then again, Morgan said, “I look at tonight’s starting lineup and I see five guys hitting under .200. And these are the guys we are counting on. I’m worried about the future.”
When the Rays jumped out to a quick lead in their eventual 5-2 victory over the Sox, the crowd fell silent. But Matt and Sarah Keller, from Fort Myers, Fla., were happy. They are Rays fans; they had bumped into their team’s starting pitching staff in the mall and gotten pictures.
The Rays are still fighting for a playoff spot, Sarah Keller said, which should give Sox fans a reason to cheer up.
“We’re taking the Yankees down,” she said. “We can agree that we both hate the Yankees.”