Since 2002, 'Sweet Caroline' sing-along a full-time eighth-inning staple
CLEVELAND -- In the wake of the tragedy that took place at the Boston Marathon on Monday, "Sweet Caroline" was transformed from a Fenway Park sing-along to a song that was played in cities throughout Major League Baseball on Tuesday night.
With the Neil Diamond song becoming a symbol to pay tribute to Boston fans who are in deep hurt over the bombings that killed three and injured 176 others, perhaps this is the appropriate to time to explain how "Sweet Caroline" became the signature piece for every middle of the eighth inning at Fenway Park.
During a 1997 game at Fenway, Amy Tobey, who was one of the employees in charge of music at the ballpark during that season, played "Sweet Caroline" because someone she knew had just had a baby named Caroline.
For the next five years or so, the song was only played on select occasions at Fenway Park.
When Charles Steinberg, an entertainment maestro, started working for the Red Sox as executive vice president/public affairs in 2002, he made sure the song became a nightly staple for the Fenway faithful.
"The Red Sox would play it once in a while," Steinberg said. "They would play it from time to time. It wasn't an anthem. In 2002, they were still doing that. I could hear that the fans were singing responsively.
"So I said to Danny Kischel, who was working the control room at the time, I said, 'Are you going to play Sweet Caroline today?' He said, 'Oh no, we can't play it. It's not a Sweet Caroline day.' I said, 'What's a Sweet Caroline day?' He said we only play Sweet Caroline when the team is ahead and the crowd is festive and the atmosphere is already very upbeat."
But that's when Steinberg had his brainstorm.
"I said, 'I think the song may have transformative powers and it may be able to lift the melancholy crowd and lift the spirits to being positive.' We were talking about change in an organization that didn't have any change," said Steinberg. "I said, 'Let's do it.' Sometimes they were playing at the end of seven. Sometimes they were playing at the end of eight. Sometimes they were playing at the middle of the eighth. I wanted it to be the middle of the eighth, because you want your more festive songs to occur when the home team is coming up to bat. So we started playing it each day in 2002."
And that tradition hasn't stopped since.
Later in that 2002 season, Steinberg met another Caroline who just about everyone in New England knew of, but he didn't know she was part of the song's origin.
"What's funny is that in August of 2002, Caroline Kennedy was at the game as a guest of [Red Sox president/CEO] Larry Lucchino. I met her in the seventh inning," said Steinberg. "She was sitting out in the stands with her husband and children. It was a hot day game in August and I brought her up to John [Henry], Tom [Werner] and Larry's suite.
"I remember asking her if she needed anything to eat. She said, 'No, I had a Fenway frank.' She was very gracious. In the middle of the eighth, 'Sweet Caroline' came on and I said, 'Is this song about you?' Bewildered, she looked at me and said, 'I don't think so.' That's in August of 2002.
"Now you turn the clock ahead to all the glory days and everything and now in November of 2007, Neil Diamond revealed that in fact his inspiration for the song was a photo back in the mid '60s of little Caroline and her horse not long after President Kennedy got assassinated."
The connections seem kind of amazing to Steinberg.
"What moved me was the thought that Boston links an anthem to the daughter of the Brookline native, President Kennedy, the foremost political family in Boston," said Steinberg. "This is the great granddaughter of the guy who threw out the first pitch in April of 1912, and Boston is singing this anthem, not knowing that they're singing about their very own native daughter."
On Tuesday night, that song went from being Fenway's anthem to baseball's anthem.
"It's so remarkable how intertwined with Fenway it is, unknowingly by Amy Tobey, unwittingly by me, who established it as a daily anthem and Neil Diamond ends up singing it at Fenway," Steinberg said. "Neil Diamond knows the whole story. He knows the story of the transformative powers. It really does have transformative powers."
Diamond was among those moved by the tributes in various MLB parks on Tuesday, and he tweeted to say thank you to most of the teams who participated.
Why was Steinberg so sure Sweet Caroline should be an 81-game staple at Fenway?
"When you heard the crowd sing so responsively to it, that's the sign of a song the crowd is connecting to," Steinberg said. "This was not the club saying it's time for a sing-along. This was organic. This was from the crowd singing it. They sang it with such participation, audible participation, why not play it for them if they want to sing it?"
As for what the various MLB teams did on Tuesday night?