The sign hanging beyond the turnstiles at Fenway Park’s Gate D entrance read, “Welcome to Workout Wednesday,” but the larger message was more subtle.
By opening their intrasquad scrimmage to fans, free of charge, just two days before they embark on the postseason, the Red Sox were saying thank you.
It was a nod to the dad holding his son’s hand as they crossed over Yawkey Way to the ballpark.
To the man with the cellphone camera who took a picture of the framed 617 strong jersey hanging on one of the pillars in the corridor.
To the class from Fenway High that came across the street to steal a few minutes at the ballpark.
To the workers who decided to push away from their desks and stride to the ballpark, still in their slacks and button-downs.
“Our fans have been with us since jump street,” said Red Sox outfielder Jonny Gomes. “It’s cool for them to take some time out of their day and just watch us work, you know, a little behind the scenes today.”
Karl Gerds, the stacks supervisor at the law library at Boston University, left work early to catch the workout.
“I couldn’t get out early enough, so I missed the beginning,” he said. “But yeah, I think it’s real nice. It’s a nice gesture and it’s cool to watch these guys.”
Fans scattered throughout the red seats in the lower seating areas. Team greeters passed out “B Strong” stickers. Kids stood in line for balloon animals. “Big League Brian” took long stiff strides through the ballpark.
Gerds smiled at the simplicity of things. Split squads. Two umpires. It was like a sandlot game — a very historic sandlot.
“To see the umpire, it reminds me of softball or Little League, where you’ve got the second umpire like halfway to the pitcher,” he said. “It’s kind of cool. You don’t see that at big league fields.”
The gesture was another act of good will toward a fan base that was loyal but, in recent years, also tested. The glow of World Series titles in 2004 and 2007 had worn off after a bitter collapse in 2011 and a last-place finish in 2012.
At the beginning of the season, the Red Sox watched their record sellout streak come to an end. They averaged 34,979 fans a game this season, a 7 percent drop from 2012. Altogether they drew 2.8 million fans, the ninth most in baseball. But they fell short of 3 million for the first time since 2007.
“I had to get the bad taste out of my mouth,” Gerds said. “Win me back? No, I wasn’t going anywhere. Fan for life.”
For only the fifth time in franchise history, the Red Sox finished the season with baseball’s best record, and Gerds said as the year played out, he could tell there was something special about the group.
“Everything kind of came together like a perfect storm of good stuff this year,” he said. “Last year was the opposite. This year was good stuff. They’re good, they’re winning, and they seem really likable all the time. So, that helps, too.”
Emily Hardman had a seat not far behind home plate with her 12-week-old son, Fox, laying quietly in her lap. The director of student programming and communications for the student affairs department at Northeastern was enjoying her last week of maternity leave.
“So, this is my last hurrah,” she said.
She doesn’t get out to too many games, the cost of tickets being the biggest obstacle.
It’s something Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks understood.
“It’s hard to get tickets to our games,” Middlebrooks said. “Most of our games are sold out for the most part, and they can get expensive. So it’s a good opportunity for people who haven’t had an opportunity to come to the games to get up here.
“Obviously, it’s not a real game, but you still get to come in and see the venue, see the stadium, and just kind of get a feel. You get to see the players up close. Everybody here is like the diehards. They don’t miss a thing. So, it’s pretty cool to see.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.