As is often the case with a good idea, it was born of desperation.
The Red Sox were a miserable bunch last season, doomed to finish in last place after the roster was decimated by trades and injuries.
Games were eerily quiet with fans not allowed in the ballpark because of the pandemic. The usual postgame distractions of bars, movies, or dinners together weren’t allowed.
“It was hard to have any fun,” catcher Kevin Plawecki said. “It’s tough when you’re losing no matter what. But we couldn’t even spend time together.”
Jason Varitek, one of the coaches, pulled Plawecki aside and suggested he come up with something to brighten the mood. That led to the home run tunnel, the players forming two lines in the dugout to welcome a teammate back after a round-tripper.
That was a start, but something better was needed.
On Sept. 13 at Tampa Bay, Christian Vázquez homered in the first inning. Prodded by Varitek, Plawecki grabbed a nearby laundry cart and Vázquez went for a ride down the length of the dugout pushed by his teammates.
Almost every home run hit since then has been celebrated by a ride in a cart. It’s caught on to a point that a custom-made cart should arrive at Fenway Park in time for Tuesday night’s game against the Detroit Tigers.
“I guess that’s our thing now,” Plawecki said.
Baseball is a six-month grind, eight if you count spring training. A little something silly can go a long way, and if a team gets hot, it becomes sacred to the cause.
In 2013, many Red Sox players grew bushy beards and didn’t shave them until after they won the World Series. The veteran players on that team also made it a habit to overdress for road trips, showing up at the park on getaway days wearing custom-made suits. They looked like a bunch of investment bankers.
Camaraderie off the field often translates to success in the standings. If this particular Red Sox team bonds over laundry-cart rides and waving back at the dugout when they get a hit, manager Alex Cora approves.
“I’m all about it,” he said. “I thought in spring training this was a good group. They like each other.”
The Red Sox are 17-12 and in first place in the American League East, better than was expected after an offseason of moderately priced additions.
To be sure, that has been a product of good starting pitching, a bounce-back season by J.D. Martinez, and consistent hitting from Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers. Returning from his suspension, Cora added his energy and equanimity back into the equation.
But laundry carts and clubhouse conversations have played a role.
“I’ll tell you the truth, in spring training everybody was speaking the same language, the same language we were speaking in 2018,” Vazquez said.
“I’m not telling you we’re going to win this year, but we’re going in the right direction. It’s a family here. We play for each other and we have each other’s back. It’s different from last year. It’s fun to come to the ballpark.”
All that fun comes with a little risk. Martinez almost got accidentally dumped out of the cart earlier this season.
“I saved myself; I would have busted my butt,” he said. “It would have been ugly. I think I need a booster seat.”
Martinez is a baseball technician who tends to keep emotion a bat-length away, lest it interfere with his process. But he agrees there’s something to what’s going on with the Sox.
“You have the little things,” he said. “This game’s very stressful and it’s very negative. You’re constantly getting scrutinized by everything. You fail seven out of 10 times and you’re a great player. You have to find ways to have fun and keep everything loose.”
Eduardo Rodriguez suggested that pitchers should get a ride in the cart if they throw a shutout or complete game.
“And when I get my base hit,” said the lefthander, who is 0 for 20 in his career.
Plawecki, meanwhile, has yet to ride in the cart. His one home run last season came before it started, and he has yet to connect this season.
“I feel like I’m due,” he said. “Mostly, I want to hit a home run and help us win a game. But the cart looks like fun.”
Bogaerts, who was a member of the ’13 team, wants to get deeper into the season before making any rash predictions. But he likes the vibe so far.
“We’re definitely enjoying ourselves and enjoying the moment,” Bogaerts said. “Hopefully we can continue this for a long time — for the whole season.”