It was well before dawn, but the lights at Fenway Park were on and the bars were already abuzz with Red Sox fans. The day hadn't started yet, but baseball had.
Several hundred diehard, somewhat sleep-deprived fans gathered at Game On! and Cask 'n' Flagon outside the park yesterday morning for the unusually early start to the baseball season, cheering on their beloved Red Sox as they opened their world championship defense in Tokyo against the Oakland A's. Fans lined up outside Game On! before it opened at 5:30 a.m., and by the start of the game at 6:05, well over 200 had arrived.
Over coffee and breakfast, they cheered on the Sox and celebrated the time-honored tradition of Opening Day with little regard to the strange timing. It's never too early for baseball, many fans said. After a long winter, the arrival felt overdue.
Michael Ratty, a 28-year-old from the North End, described Opening Day as a communal event that had to be shared with fellow fans, no matter how many time zones stood in the way.
"I never had any intention of watching it myself at my apartment," he said. "How many times do you get to watch a game before work? And I've been dying for baseball."
While most fans across New England followed the game in between hits of the snooze bar, on their commute to work, or from the comfort of their couch, these devotees jumped at the chance to join others welcoming the Red Sox back from their winter slumber.
Trading some REM sleep to hear the familiar voice of the RemDawg, the nickname of NESN announcer Jerry Remy, was an easy call.
"Taking Opening Day off for a 1 p.m. game, that's great," said James Garvey, a 27-year-old from Woburn who was at Game On! "Taking it off for a 6 a.m. game, that's just awesome."
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," agreed his friend, Mike Keene, 23, of Charlestown.
The bars had special permission from the city to open early, but were not allowed to serve alcohol until after the game, much to fans' consternation. It was heresy, even un-American, to watch the game without a beer, some fans said.
"Beer and baseball, they go hand in hand," said Adam Storey, clad in a David Ortiz jersey. "It's like apple pie."
Down the bar, several third-shifters were taking in the game after work. The early start fit their schedule just fine, they said.
"They should do this all the time," quipped Eddie Schrage, 49, a night dispatcher from Everett. "They should have all the road games in Tokyo to fit my schedule. I'm going to give [MLB Commissioner] Bud Selig a call."
Others were less pleased by the predawn start, grumbling into their coffee at the uncivilized hour, but not unhappy enough to miss the Opening Day festivities.
"This is the worst," said Bill Lauzon, a 29-year-old bartender from Brockton who planned a lengthy afternoon nap before his shift. "But you have to be here."
The strange hour did drive some fans away. Dan Wilkens, a 28-year-old from South Boston, said he could persuade only one of his buddies to join him. "Everybody else just said 'couch,' " he said.
Lindsay Curtis, marketing manager for Game On!, said bars will never go broke overestimating the passion of Red Sox fans. "They just kept on calling" to see if the bar was open for the game, she said with a chuckle.
By the middle innings, the crowd began to thin. Time for work, many said.
Christine Rhodes stifled a yawn as she watched at the Cask 'n' Flagon.
Rhodes, 22, of Brookline, who works at an accounting firm, said a little fatigue was a small sacrifice to see the Red Sox opener. "You can sleep whenever," she said.