Club had played 794 regular-season games before packed Fenway house
BOSTON -- The sellout streak at Fenway Park, which began on May 15, 2003, and lasted 794 regular season games (820 if you include the postseason) came to an end with 30,862 turning up to watch the Red Sox's 8-5 loss to the Orioles on a rainy Wednesday night.
"I think the word that comes to mind is grateful," said Red Sox chief operating officer Sam Kennedy. "Those of us that have been in baseball a long time know you don't get this in most markets. To have the type of fan support we've had this decade is remarkable."
Walking out of the park with Mike Aviles after a game last year, Will Middlebrooks, a rookie still getting accustomed to the passion associated with the Fenway Park fans, received an odd request.
"A woman asked me to sign her child," Middlebrooks recalled. "I was like, 'I'm not signing your child.' The kid was like 2 years old. I was like, 'I really don't feel comfortable signing your child.'"
Middlebrooks said he's been in awe at the passion and support from fans in Boston, but odd stories like his are a product of packing 33,000-plus people into Fenway Park for every home game over the last nine-plus years.
The streak was the longest in major professional sports, passing the Portland Trailblazers, who sold out 814 consecutive games, including the postseason. The previous record in Major League Baseball was 455 set by the Cleveland Indians between 1995-2001.
"When we were playing, I think we just expected it [to be sold out] every night," said former Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield. "Winning really sells seats, too. So we had some great runs there in the early 2000s until I retired. I'm just proud to be a part of it."
The Red Sox won two American League pennants and two World Series titles during the streak, but they haven't qualified for the postseason since 2009.
"We know that part of the reason it's over is because we failed last year," said general manager Ben Cherington, "so we take that on us and take responsibility for that. Hopefully the focus of this is a remarkable run for our team and our fans.
"I remember a lot of pretty miserable, cold April rainy nights everyone sat through. For it to last as long as it did is amazing. So it's on us to make sure the place is filled and start a new one at some point." Kennedy said that he expected at least 30,000 fans on most nights and that there would still be plenty of sellouts. The opportunity for fans to walk down to Fenway on the day of a game and buy tickets is an added bonus. Kennedy also assured that there would not be a new ballpark built in Boston over the next 10-15 years.
Orioles infielder Ryan Flaherty, who grew up in Maine and was the Gatorade Player of the Year as a senior at Deering High School in 2005, said Fenway's crowds have created a unique atmosphere for visiting players, too.
"I mean, they're good baseball fans," Flaherty said. "They know baseball up here. Every now and then you hear something in the stadium, a 'Good job' from a New England kid, which is nice. It's always nice to try to win here, too, so that makes it better.
"Obviously, though, when you're on the visiting team here, they're going to hate you."