"Happy New Year." That’s what fans say when baseball starts back up each season and the Red Sox play their home opener at Fenway Park — which was supposed to have been Thursday.
During last year's home opener, the scene on Jersey Street set a tone that celebrates the hope of new beginnings. Fans flooded the sidewalks and pavement. A band played in the middle of the street. It felt like a carnival.
anyways, everything is very normal on Jersey Street pic.twitter.com/VGNyP4znSU— Esteban Bustillos (@E_Bustillos4) April 9, 2019
These days, the only sound you can hear outside of Fenway comes from vehicles passing by on the Massachusetts Turnpike. With baseball on hold because of the coronavirus, it’s a strange sight to see Fenway like a ghost town, especially on a day when it’s supposed to be the center of the Boston universe.
Former Red Sox second baseman and current NESN color analyst Jerry Remy told WGBH News that home openers at Fenway differ from any other day of the season.
“Everybody’s excited about the chance of a new season and what may be the outcome of a new season," Remy said. "And the crowds are there for the first time. It feels like summer’s just around a corner.”
Around this time last year, the Red Sox were coming off a World Series win. They raised a commemorative banner at the park. Musicians played “We Are The Champions” on the field.
Alex Cora, the manager at the time, spoke then about just how special that day was.
“Today’s a special day," he told reporters last year. "Like, I told the guys down there, ‘Enjoy it. Enjoy it, because not everybody can win a World Series. And there’s a lot of people that played this game that had great careers. You know, there’s Hall of Famers that don’t even have a ring. So, enjoy it.'”
That was only one year ago, but it feels like another decade. The following season, the Red Sox missed the playoffs after going 84-78. In an offseason that seemed to just keep on getting worse and worse, Cora and the team parted ways because of his role in a sign-stealing scandal that took place while he was a coach with the Houston Astros. Then the team traded away a former AL MVP, Mookie Betts, to the Los Angeles Dodgers. On top of all of that, MLB had started an investigation into accusations that Boston also improperly stole signs in 2018.
All of that was before MLB pushed back the 2020 season on March 12 as the coronavirus pandemic shut down major sports, one by one.
Now, no one knows when baseball hopes will spring eternal once again. Remy said he hasn’t seen anything like it.
“I’ve been through many strikes, many lockouts. And that was a different feeling, because you knew there was negotiating going on and you knew that at some point it would be over, within a couple of weeks or maybe a month," he said. "This, you just don’t know. Nobody can tell you when you’re going to see baseball again. It’s impossible.”
For those who follow the game closely, it's a strange time. Matt Collins, managing editor at Over the Monster, a Red Sox blog on SB Nation, said without baseball, he’s losing sense of time.
“This is the time of year the weather’s starting to get nice, the sun’s up, there’s finally no snow on the ground," Collins said. "And this is when, basically every night for six months, I know what I’m doing. I’m going to be in front of the TV from like 7 to 10 o’clock. … It’s just totally surreal.”
To be honest, sports can seem trivial at a time like this.
But they can also offer a sense of unity and much needed relief after a period of great struggle, like when the Red Sox rallied the city after the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013 or the first pro games after the 9/11 terrorists attacks in 2001.
Collins said he imagines that will be the case when the national pastime comes back. “I’m sure Fenway’s gonna be crazy whenever that first game is back," he said.
One day, maybe, baseball will return and Fenway will finally host the home opener it promised. Kids will play hooky. Adults will conveniently have sick days lined up. Life may get back to looking something like normal and fans' biggest worries will have to do with runs, hits and errors.
But for now, the city will feel like it’s on hold because spring doesn’t really start in Boston until the first pitch is thrown at Fenway Park.