Tag Archives: Fenway

Behind The Scenes at Fenway

yawkey-way-at-game-time.jpgLast week, the Red Sox invited me to visit the team’s offices on Yawkey Way. “Why don’t you come by around noon on Wednesday and sit in on a bunch of meetings?” And so I did. Between noon and 4pm, I attended four meetings:

1. A bi-weekly meeting of the team’s vice presidents and directors (I counted 28 of them), led by team president, Larry Lucchino. Each VP/director gave a brief update on his/her area of responsibility and fielded a question or two from Lucchino. Even yours truly was asked to say a few words. (“I don’t mean to put you on the spot, Rob,” said Larry, “but what’s the state of the Nation?”)

2. A meeting led by senior vice president sales/marketing, Sam Kennedy, to discuss the status of the Red Sox Fellows Program’s recruiting efforts.

3. A meeting led by Sam Kennedy and director of client services, Troup Parkinson, with executives from a company that currently spends about a half-million dollars per year in advertising with the Red Sox. The purpose of the meeting was to brainstorm ways to reconfigure the deal going forward.

4. A meeting led by manager of community marketing, Mardi Fuller, on “Marketing to Women.”

Rather than give you the blow by blow on these meetings, I thought I’d share with you the most striking take-aways of my afternoon at Fenway:

1. Larry Lucchino has the entire organization under his thumb, and he seems to enjoy being president and getting involved in the details of every aspect of the organization. He ran the VP/directors meeting like an emcee, sprinkling in anecdotes from time to time, quizzing VPs on facts about their area, and handing out praise generously. He is clearly well-liked and highly respected by his charges.

2. Out of the 28 team VP/directors who spoke at that first mfenway-at-sunset.jpgeeting, only two mentioned actual baseball players: Brian O’Halloran, director of baseball operations (he attended in Theo Epstein’s stead), who gave a brief update on minor transactions that had occurred in the last two weeks, and Dick Bresciani, the team’s historian and archivist, who gave a spirited presentation about “this week in Red Sox history.” As a fan, it was striking to see that 95% of the meeting focused on issues that would bore most fans to tears.

3. At lunch, following the VP/directors meeting, I had a chance to talk with Ron Bumgarner, who runs the ticketing operation. “The Yankees and every other pro sports organization laughs at us for the lengths we go to to try to make tickets accessible to regular fans,” he said. And after 20 minutes of hearing about the thought process behind their ticket operations, I believed him.

He confessed that sometimes the lengths to which the Sox go to make things fair have a negative effect on their efforts to make the experience easy. For example, when tickets are available online, some people wait ten minutes to purchase tickets, while others who have waited hours and hours and were “in line” first get nothing. He explained that if the Sox did not pluck folks out of the “virtual waiting room” randomly, the agencies/resellers would chew up all the tickets – because they have the manpower and, more importantly, the programmer power to dominate the “front of the line” and proactively “mole” their computers to butt in the queue. He said that they could sell out Fenway’s 81 games in one day if they wanted to, and that would make their job easy, but they don’t do that because it would not be fair to the “average fans.”

4. I assumed that the Red Sox Fellows Program would cater to the grandchildren of owners and nieces of senior vice presidents, but the meeting on the Fellows Program made it clear to me that the Sox are truly looking for a robust, diverse pool of applicants. Just as the baseball operations people are looking for talented players, the business operations people are looking for talented, capable “fellows” to inject the organization with energy and to develop executives of the future. (For more information on the Red Sox Fellows Program, click here. Applications for the 2008 season are due January 4, 2008.)

5. It was fascinating to me that 80% of the 90 minute-long meeting with the corporate sponsor was spent “developing the relationship” — talking about the 2007 season, catching up on how business is going, talking about mutual friends and acquaintances. Only 20% of the time was spent exploring the future of the company’s business relationship with the Sox, and no actual financial terms of a deal were discussed.

6. The Red Sox have a gigantic “home field advantage” when meeting with potential corporate sponsors at Fenway Park. Sam and Troup probably didn’t notice the awe twinkling in the eyes of the three guest executives (two of whom had flown in from D.C., and one from New York) as they walked down the corridor to the conference room, gazing at the posters and photos of Red Sox greats on the walls. What was perhaps ‘just another meeting’ for Sam and Troup was clearly one of the most exciting business meetings of the year for their guests. When we sat down for the meeting, a snow-covered Fenway Park loomed in the background through the window wall. Even if you’re not a baseball fan, you can’t help sprouting goosebumps in that room.

remy-and-orsillo-bobbleheads.jpg7. One question that was raised at the “Marketing to Women” meeting was, “With every game sold out and TV ratings high, and with a broader female fan base than any other major league baseball team, why should the Red Sox care about appealing to women more than they already do?” The two big answers were: Because an organization that appeals to women as well as men will thrive even when the team isn’t winning, and because women represent half of the potential customer base/audience.

Other interesting points raised included: a) Women (and men) spend more time directly experiencing the Red Sox through NESN (and their team of Jerry Remy, Don Orsillo, and Tina Cervasio) than through personal trips to Fenway Park. Therefore, any marketing efforts targeting women need to examine the effectiveness of this channel. b) Men (whom are the default targets of existing Red Sox marketing efforts) have young daughters they want to bring to Fenway Park; they have girlfriends and wives who sometimes accompany them when they attend a game or watch on TV; and certainly “baseball” can compete with all these women for “quality time” in the life of a male fan. Therefore, the more broadly the team appeals to women, the more broadly it will appeal to its default audience of men, as well.cubicles.jpg

8. In the end, the Red Sox offices are still offices where people go to work every day (most are crammed into small cubicles), and the nature of their work is not unlike the work done in other organizations: finance, marketing, customer relations, sales, advertising, public relations, etc. While all Red Sox employees have highly coveted jobs, they don’t walk around exuding excitement and gratitude for their good luck; in fact, I’d say they all looked pretty worn out after a long, strenuous 2007. (I assume the office atmosphere is slightly different in May, during a Yankees homestand, the day after an Ortiz walk-off home run…)

I want to thank the Red Sox organization for welcoming me into their offices for a few hours. Their hospitality rates a ten out of ten, and I appreciate their high hopes for the new roles of President and Vice President of Red Sox Nation.

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Rich Gedman, a Clutch Single, and a Balk… 21 Years Ago

rich-gedman-and-roger-clemens.jpgAfter the triumphant ride through Boston on duck boats, I followed Red Sox personnel into a post-parade reception at Fenway. The place was crawling with familiar faces, but the one I was most eager to meet belonged to former Red Sox catcher, Rich Gedman. Gedman played for the Sox from 1980 to 1990, right in the prime of my Red Sox childhood, when I was between the ages of 12 and 22. I walked up to Gedman because I wanted to tell him that he had had the key hit in the greatest baseball game I’ve ever witnessed in person – and to ask him what he remembered about it. Rich was happy to talk.

After introducing myself, I told Rich that I remember attending an extra-innings game at rob-and-rich-gedman.jpgFenway in my youth and, when it was over, I proclaimed, “I will never see a game more unbelievable than that for the rest of my life,” and I recall that the opposing team made a couple of big blunders in the last inning to aid a Sox comeback, and that Gedman had the game-winning hit. But that’s all I recall.  

Rich said, “Yes, that was 1986, and it was against California, and we fell behind by three runs in the 12th or 13th inning, and I didn’t get the game-winning hit, I got the game-tying hit – a line drive to right field – then we won the game on a balk.” YES! I said, THAT WAS THE GAME!

We then recalled that Angels 3B Rick Burleson dropped a pop-up that, if it had been caught, would have ended the game. Rich tried to remember the name of the pitcher who balked, but he could not. (Further research reveals that his name was Todd Fischer… more on him later.) And Rich said that part of the reason he remembers the game is that, when the Sox made their miraculous comeback against the Angels in game 5 of the 1986 ALCS (thank you, Don Baylor and Dave Henderson), everyone in the Sox dugout was saying, “This is just like that game we played against them back in July!”

Thanks to Google, I discovered that the game took place on July 10, 1986 (I was 17 years old), and the Red Sox won, 8-7. The entire box score and play-by-play detail is available here. And after reviewing how the game ended, I see why I knew I’d never see a more exciting game. In the 12th inning, the Angels and Red Sox scored a combined total of 7 runs with two outs. Here’s how it happened.

In the top of the 12th inning, with the score tied, 4-4, Sox pitcher Steve Crawford retired the first two batters of the inning (Ruppert Jones and Gary Pettis) and then gave way to lefty Mike Brown to face left-handed hitting Wally Joyner. Mike Brown proceeded to implode. Joyner stroked a triple, then scored on a wild pitch. Unnerved, Brown then walked George Hendrick and Brian Downing in succession and gave up R.B.I. singles to Rick Burleson and Bobby Grich. Tim Lollar relieved Mike Brown and got Dick Schofield to pop out to Gedman, but the damage had been done: three two-out runs for California and an almost certain loss for the Sox.

As a kid, whatever tickets I got my hands on were almost always standing room (which was fine with me). I remember that after that three-run burst, Fenway emptied and my little brother, Ben (16 at the time), and our friend, Sam (13 at the time), and I moved down to the front row behind home plate. We didn’t stay to see a comeback, we stayed because we wanted to experience even a half-inning of Red Sox baseball from the good seats. We were sad the Sox were about to lose, but we were jacked to be sitting in the best seats in the house.

rick-burleson.jpgMarty Barrett led off the bottom of the 12th against Angels pitcher Mike Cook with an infield single to the second baseman, Bobby Grich. In the box score it’s called a single, but in my memory, it was a botched play – perhaps it was a bad hop, I’m not sure. Wade Boggs then did something he almost never did – he struck out looking. And after Bill Buckner flied out to left field, with the Sox down to their last out, Jim Rice did something he did frequently – he hit a ball into the screen above the Green Monster for a two-run homer. But when Don Baylor followed with a pop-up above third base, it looked like the game would end — until the ball bonked off of Burleson’s glove and Baylor ended up on first. I remember that well – and I remember that Ben, Sam and I went nuts. Are we going to win this game?? And when Dwight Evans walked, putting the tying run on second base, the 1,000 or so of us left at Fenway jumped and screamed with anticipation. Number 10, Rich Gedman, shook the donut off of his bat and strode to the batter’s box with an expression of total calmness.

And this is what I remember most about that game: seeing Gedman walk to the plate and thinking, “When this half-inning started, there is no way Gedman thought he’d need to walk out onto this field again tonight.” And I remember just praying, praying, praying for Rich to get a hit and continue this amazing comeback. And he did! Line drive, base hit to right field. Baylor scores! YES! YES! YES! TIE GAME! TIE GAME! Again, the loyal few of us left at Fenway, all crammed into the front five rows, romped and cheered like lunatics. RICH GEDMAN IS CLUTCH became a new fact in my baseball-encyclopedic head. And the winning run, in the person of Dwight Evans, stood at third base with two outs.

gene_mauch_autograph.jpgAt this remarkable juncture, with the ever-dangerous Rey Quinones (lifetime batting average of .245) coming to the plate for the Red Sox, Angels manager Gene Mauch removed pitcher Mike Cook from the game and replaced him with rookie reliever, Todd Fischer. It was Fischer’s 9th major league appearance, and it turned out to be his last. And what a way to end a career – before even throwing a pitch, Fischer balked, Evans scored, and the Red Sox won. As Evans ran down the third base line, most of us in the stands didn’t know what had happened for a few seconds, but as the news spread, bedlam ensued. Gene Mauch argued vociferously while the Sox players and fans reveled all around him. As Ben, Sam and I walked out of Fenway that night, we all said to each other, that game will never be topped.

How rare is it for a winning run to cross the plate as the result of a balk? According to Jayson Stark, it’s only happened three times in the last 33 years.

Another interesting postscript to this story: soon after Mike Brown pitched like dog doo vs. the Angels and Rey Quinones stood there and watched the game-winning balk, the Mariners traded 1986 heroes Dave Henderson and Spike Owen to the Sox for Rey Quinones and Mike Brown!  (And the immortal Mike Trujillo.) Thank you, Rey and Mike! And thank you, Rich Gedman, for the chance to reminisce about an extraordinary moment we both witnessed and participated in 21 years ago…. and that we’ll never forget.

“Real” Red Sox Fans’ New Identity

A funny thing is happening in Red Sox Nation. Some of the people who were “real fans” prior to 2004 – who attest to having experienced the frustration, the agony, the exasperation of at least some of the 86 years of futility – are getting irritated with the consequences of the Sox becoming a winning franchise. The effect most discussed is the explosion of new Red Sox fans. Sometimes they’re referred to as the “pink hats.” Naturally, the team is irresistible, so new fans have been drawn to the Bosox like a magnet over the past three years. (I call these people “Stage 1 Fans” in my article about the 4 stages of being a Red Sox fan.) And I think it’s great. Come on down and join the Nation. We’ve been waiting for you.

But I find it fascinating that some Red Sox fans consider themselves “more worthy” than other Red Sox fans because they’ve been paying attention longer, or because they were fans when the Sox always found a way to lose, or because they know more trivia answers about 1967, 1975, and 1986. It’s so interesting that a Red Sox fan walking down the street would scoff at another Red Sox fan walking down the street because of the Sox shirt he/she chooses to wear, or the color of the baseball hat he/she chooses to wear. I mean, come on, aren’t we all pulling for the same group of guys?

I do agree that most “new” Sox fans are easy to spot, and even easier to identify when they open their mouths. But why do so many long-term die-hards loathe them so much? Is it because, deep down, they liked it better when the Sox were trying to break the “curse” and the cameraderie we all felt revolved around a shared masochistic obsession? Is it because they feel a person must “pay his dues” before he can be called a Red Sox fan? Or is it just because they find it sickening when people flock to the winner?

Legendary sportswriter Dan Shaughnessy wrote an article in today’s Boston Globe that expresses this “I’m a real fan, and you’re not” mentality well. Read the article here.

It’s ironic — all the “real fans” of the Red Sox crave another World Series victory, but many of them feel a sense of loss about our identity as valiant, perennial losers. (See an interesting article about this concept here.) Some harbor an unusual longing for the good ol’ days when the Sox were on an endless quest for a world title, and new, naive Sox fans were welcomed with open arms and admired for their willingness to join the fellowship of the miserable.

Prior to 2004, it never occurred to many “real fans” of the Red Sox that winning it all would fundamentally change the meaning of Red Sox Nation and alter forever the message that a “B” hat sends to others about the cap’s wearer (we didn’t dare to dream about such outrageous notions). And as we become the best team of this century (which is also what we were at the beginning of the 20th Century), many long-term fans want the world to know, “Yeah, we’re the best now, but we weren’t for a long time and I was loyal during the tough times too.” Can you imagine how popular a cap or t-shirt would be that communicated unequivocally about it’s owner, “I was a Sox fan during the painful years”?

Of course, one option for these people would be to wear a Cubs cap. There’s something familiar and strangely appealing to many “real” Red Sox fans about the image at right….