I find we are not always alone; sometimes we’re a crowd


Question: How do you know you are in the grip of a spirited and very public moment?

Answer: When you find yourself, and, shockingly, the wife you thought you knew so well, along with a bus load of Vineyard friends and 30,000 strangers, wiggling with dance fever to Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” fist pumping, and yelling “So good, so good, so good” — at Fenway Park.

Not that it’s a bad feeling. On the contrary, getting a little outside oneself this way, even finding oneself singing at the top of one’s lungs and, sadly, doing that wretched 1963-vintage version of the monkey that you do, across a gulf of three or four rows of bleacher seats and making vague eye contact with some unknown dance partner similarly in thrall to the moment, is officially good for the soul. Certainly no one without a soul would be transported this way.

Yelling “I love that dirty water” along with the multitudinous, beer-soaked crowd, impatient at the intermittent rain and intermittent tarp rollouts, is probably good for the soul too, although, more important, it may be good for the structural integrity of the ancient ballpark.

A crowd as numerous as a Fenway Park full house on a Saturday afternoon is nothing you want to see milling around Kenmore Square with nothing to do and no musical agenda. In such a circumstance, many people might fail to find the common bond that makes them a chorus when the first chords of Diamond’s tune begins. Roaming free, they might rally around some desperately antisocial attitudes. Confined in the ballpark and happy to be there, even Neil Diamond is a tune they can dance and sing to.

One afternoon at the old Yankee Stadium, much bigger and less charming than Fenway, we were sitting behind the visiting team’s bullpen. The Yankee fans, some of whom came to the park not to take in the game but to abuse the relievers lying in wait below them, were merciless. None of the fan comments can be repeated in a family newspaper, but the ballplayers below were numb to the attacks. No actual beer bottles got thrown, but what was interesting about that public gathering was that the fans who considered it their job to beat up on the visiting pitchers did not dance or sing when the Yankee grounds crew put on their Village People’s Y-M-C-A dance routine on the infield. Everyone else in the huge crowd roared and sang along. The sociopaths, whose goal was strictly to discomfit the visiting hurlers, did not.

Back when AT&T Park in San Francisco was Pacific Bell Park, the unifying principle wasn’t music for the Giants’ fans. It was a JumboTron featuring a view of China Basin and McCovey Cove, beyond the wall that contained the short right field. What the fans wanted and roared to see were the kayakers hove to out there waiting for home-run blasts by the likes of Willie McCovey and Barry Bonds. They weren’t disappointed. Nearly 60 of those homers have landed in the cove. There’s no official tally of how many of the balls were actually retrieved by the kayakers, or how many marine engagements ensued among the captains of the assembled vessels, but every one of the paddlers got an ear shattering cheer from the fans, no matter who hit the ball out to them.

This kind of a spirited, public, collegial moment is not reserved for baseball parks. Saturday evening, the principle was observed at SailMV’s annual dinner and auction at Ralph Packer’s wharf on Vineyard Haven Harbor. It would have been a perfect evening to be at Fenway, but the friends of SailMV, delighted by good food and generous spirits, as every Fenway crowd is, were fans of the good works that SailMV does. They made a big-tent, charitable, apolitical party. As they gave and gave to the evening’s appealing cause, they didn’t exactly stand up to holler “So good, so good, so good,” but they very well might have done.