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tara sullivan

A Red Sox Opening Day that feels almost normal is cause to celebrate

The Fenway Park grounds crew put some finishing touches on the field in preparation for Thursday's opener.
The Fenway Park grounds crew put some finishing touches on the field in preparation for Thursday's opener.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

It was Pete Seeger who turned the words into a hit song, but many people know they came almost verbatim from the Bible’s Book of Ecclesiastes: “To everything (turn, turn turn), there is a season (turn, turn, turn), and a time to every purpose under heaven.”

For the Byrds, whose recording of Seeger’s song “Turn! Turn! Turn!” rose to No. 1 on 1965′s Billboard Hot 100 list, the lyrics were a plea for peace.

But here, in the spring of 2021, I hear them for a different season.

I hear them as a song for baseball, a lyrical “welcome back” to a game that was a shell of itself last year, and might be a victim of its own labor wars next year, but for now feels whole in a way it hasn’t for so long.

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With Opening Day 2021 upon us, the tumultuous sports calendar of the last COVID-ravaged year approaches something — dare we say it? — almost normal. Fans, albeit in smaller numbers, are returning to ballparks. And all the teams, all 30 of them, are playing on Opening Day for the first time since 1968, the buffet of daylong action satisfying every baseball-loving appetite.

But even before the pandemic laid waste to the rhythms of our athletic seasons, the first day of the baseball season always held a special corner of our sporting hearts, the perfect first bite to a 162-game menu.

The days are getting longer, the sun is getting warmer, and here comes baseball, its inherent promise of spring awakenings and fresh starts unmatched by other sports.

“I’ve always felt that it just sort of wiped clean the past,” said legendary baseball reporter Peter Gammons, whose youthful days in Groton set the backdrop for a lifelong career in the sport. “There is a very short period of time in-season when you start with that carte blanche, and every once in a great while, it works out.”

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With a bleacher stub in his pocket, a young Gammons was at Fenway for Opening Day 1967 along with 8,000 of his closest fellow Sox fans in the vain hope the long-suffering franchise would have its first winning season in nine years.

“There was some hope,” Gammons recalled. “Dick Williams was the manager, Reggie Smith was playing second base. They won, 5-4, and I can remember leaving the park and thinking, ‘OK, well, Williams has a little fire, this is going to be fun.’

“But there was that weird feeling; we did a thing for MLB Network a couple years ago, and said it — we all consider that the most important season in Red Sox history.

“They were so bad, [owner Tom] Yawkey had talked about moving the team. [Carl] Yastrzemski had wanted to be traded but backed off at Yawkey’s request. Then three or four days later, you had a rookie named Billy Rohr, who got within one out of a no-hitter in Yankee Stadium. That thing carried over for a week and it really started something. People started saying, ‘This is the year now.’ ”

Workers were busy sprucing up Fenway Tuesday in anticipation of Thursday's opener.
Workers were busy sprucing up Fenway Tuesday in anticipation of Thursday's opener.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Rohr may have won only one more game in his short-lived Sox career, but his role in the culture change that started on Opening Day is secure.

“It re-created something that made that season so magical,” Gammons said. “They brought baseball back. All sorts of things happened — Yaz won the Triple Crown — but it also brought back Opening Day to New England. I really think it’s never been the same since. People have come back.”

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The Sox welcome the Orioles Thursday, and despite winning the World Series only three seasons ago, their salary-dumping, cost-shedding reset means the national spotlight is aimed elsewhere. But what Gammons says is true: This is the one point in the season where every team is equal, when every team nurtures the same championship dream and same confident belief it can happen.

“Nationally it shouldn’t really matter, and it’s not what ’67 was, but this Opening Day you pull the curtain up and I think it could be a significant day for the Red Sox,” Gammons said. “Let’s say [Bobby] Dalbec hits two home runs. People will get excited about it. And it carries over.

“It’s all so fun. We don’t have this pleasure of being around the ballpark, the clubhouse, but we know how different it is when they walk in on Opening Day. The players go from suntan lotion to hot stuff.

“It’s real baseball.”

That it is. Opening Day, full of hope, full of promise.

Christian Chavez attaches zip-ties to Fenway seats that cannot be used because of social distancing.
Christian Chavez attaches zip-ties to Fenway seats that cannot be used because of social distancing.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Last season was so strange, beset by the pandemic as well as the acrimonious negotiations between management and players just to pull off a truncated 60-game schedule. Next year might not happen at all, not if that protracted, ugly labor conversation is an indication of what’s to come.

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But this season is here, with its funky new twists like seven-inning doubleheaders and extra-inning baserunners, but mostly with its more familiar rhythms and sounds.

Welcome back.


Tara Sullivan is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at tara.sullivan@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Globe_Tara.