Come Friday afternoon, hordes of baseball fans will return to Fenway Park, coming to cheer on the Red Sox during the team's home opener against the Yankees.
They'll also return to the streets around the park, filling local bars and restaurants before, after and during the games, and bringing business to the stores that sell the jerseys and hats that outfit Red Sox nation.
For the restaurants and shops surrounding the historic ballpark, the home opener represents the start of their busiest season. With the slower, off-season months coming to an end, Fenway businesses are stocking their shelves (in with Carl Crawford jerseys, out with Adrian Beltre), staffing up, and preparing for the crowds.
On a rainy Monday morning four days before the game, the Yawkey Way Red Sox store was mostly empty as floor manager Tim Pettit stapled a long-sleeved "Green Monster" T-shirt to the wall, part of home opener preparations.
It's "the busiest day of the year, unless they make it to the World Series," Pettit said. The crowds come before the game, he said, to pick up a new hat or one of the commemorative Fenway Park Opening Day T-shirts. One tour guide, he noted, has a collection of home opener T-shirts spanning the last 30 years or so.
With off-season sales buoyed by new players like Carl Crawford, Pettit said, the store's busy season really starts in January, when the warehouse starts getting busy. At the store, employees change displays and refresh the inventory, with staff numbers increasing as the game approaches.
The souvenir shop is also ready for any Yankee fans who brave Friday's crowds, with a few racks of Bronx Bombers merchandise.
At Boston Beer Works, where patrons have a view of the ballpark across Brookline Avenue, a quiet lunchtime crowd was the calm before the storm, said general manager Kiel Carroccino, who said the restaurant will be "slammed, at capacity" on Friday.
The Beer Works staff, like the Red Sox, have had some time to warm up for the season. After a brief off-season (December through February), "All of March is pretty busy, " Carroccino said, with warmer weather and college basketball playoffs driving up business. "It's like our exhibition games."
Come the baseball season, sales "jump significantly," Carroccino said, and the restaurant increases product and staff levels to meet the demand.
With the crowds comes a "festival-like atmosphere for the whole weekend," he said. "It's fun, lots of great energy."
On Friday, Beer Works will open early, at 8 a.m. and stay open until 12:45 a.m. "Opening Weekend is different than normal games," Carroccino said, with the entire area busy throughout the games, while the crowd normally slows down when the Sox take the field.
"The area is so lively," he said.
As for the employees? "It's the restaurant business," he said. "You get sleep as it comes."
At Game On!, employees are "gearing up for the craziness that we'll see on the street here," said Sonja Mai, the sales manager.
The restaurant does most of its business in the first four or five months of the Red Sox season, she said, and they hope for post-season play, not just for sales, she said, but there is a "sense of community around here as well."
On Thursday, the bar will have an All Star Club reception and season kick-off party for VIP regulars, she said, "getting everyone psyched for the Sox coming in the next day." The bar will open at 11 a.m. on Friday, she said, with a staff that has grown from 20 to 50 employees for the baseball season.
And the craziness won't end with Friday's opening game, she added. "This first homestand is probably the largest we've had to start out with," she said, with the Sox playing 10 games at home.
"Okay," she said, "we've got 10 days in a row. Let's do this."