To some, the best sound of Opening Days past at Fenway Park was always the rumbling good vibrations of the metal gates being hoisted up, revealing so many joyous faces on kids who were playing hooky, decked out in their best Red Sox gear, including their baseball gloves.
The grownups greeted each other by saying, “Happy New Year,” as they entered the ancient ballpark on this holiest of baseball days.
The faces never really changed much. Fans were greeted by the same, slightly grayer ushers who were there when Pedro Martinez fanned five of the six hitters he faced in the 1999 All-Star Game. Aramark employees huddled under the bleachers, amazed that people would drink ice-cold beer on 45-degree days.
The players would line up along the foul lines, framing the giant American flag on the Green Monster and providing a quintessential Norman Rockwell moment.
The great American philosopher Yogi Berra once put it all into perspective: “A home opener is always exciting, no matter if it’s home or on the road."
We will still have our Opening Day when this coronavirus runs its course, but on Thursday, the day scheduled for the 2020 opener, Fenway is like a ghost town, the ballpark and all the bars and souvenir shops around it locked up tight instead of anticipating a 2:05 p.m. start against the Chicago White Sox.
People in respiratory masks make their way down Jersey Street, waving off reporters. Parking is free instead of a costing you a second mortgage, and there is no traffic.
It seems longer, but it was just one year ago that the Red Sox received their 2018 World Series rings. That was the highlight of last season. Then in the offseason, the Sox lost their manager and their biggest star, and they still have an MLB investigation hanging over their heads.
But the ongoing pandemic has rendered all of that trivial. We used to worry about pitching; now we worry about sneezing and finding toilet paper.
The game of baseball is just one thing on a long list of what is missing this day at the oldest big league ballpark in America. No smell of grilling sausages and onions on Lansdowne Street, no Big League Brian on stilts, no F15 flyover, no “Sweet Caroline,” no “Dirty Water,” no RemDawg, no Joe Castiglione, no Eck talking about “cheese,” no Lynne Smith Fenway hat selfies, no little kid’s face as he gets his first foul ball. No nada.
Even the statue of the "Teammates” outside the bleachers seems a tad off. What is it?
Messrs. Williams, Doerr, Pesky, and DiMaggio never had to practice social distancing.
Now when people talk about flattening the curve, they are not talking about hitting Aroldis Chapman in the bottom of the ninth inning. They are desperately trying to save lives.
But someday, hopefully soon, we will hear “play ball” again instead of “wash your hands.”
Boston will pull together and survive because “Boston Strong” isn’t just a slogan adopted by the Red Sox. It’s a way of life.
Stan Grossfeld can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.