Exploring the Phenomenon: Why Is ‘Sweet Caroline’ Played at Fenway?

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If you’ve been to a Red Sox game at Fenway Park since 1997 you’ve probably heard—and possibly sung along to—the Neil Diamond hit “Sweet Caroline” at the bottom of the eighth inning. The delightful earworm, which is now a Fenway tradition, never fails to get Red Sox fans swaying their arms in unison and joining in, especially during the “So good!” refrain. But do you know the reason why this song is synonymous with Fenway Park and the Red Sox?


Even some native Bostonians are stumped by this question. Famed singer-songwriter Neil Diamond isn’t even from Boston; he was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY—where you can encounter a lot of (gasp!) Yankees fans. And who is Caroline, anyway? Well, we’re about to clear the mystery up for you. Read on to learn what the deal is with “Sweet Caroline” and Fenway Park.

View on Fenway Park in Boston, MA

Where It Began: the Origins of 'Sweet Caroline'

Let’s start with a little music history lesson. “Sweet Caroline” was written by Neil Diamond in 1969 (and recorded at American Sound Studio in Memphis, Tennessee.) It was released in May of that year (very apropos as the song’s lyrics allude to a romance blossoming in the spring) and by mid-August reached number four on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Along with Diamond’s other hits up to this point such as “Solitary Man”, “Cherry Cherry”, and “Kentucky Woman”, it helped solidify his status as one of America’s most beloved entertainers and songwriters and the composition became a staple at his live concerts.


But who was the song written about? Throughout the years Diamond has provided different theories about who Caroline was.


In 2011 Neil Diamond revealed in an interview with CBS’ The Early Show that Caroline Kennedy inspired the song. According to Diamond, he saw a magazine cover photo of Caroline Kennedy (who was a little girl at the time) with her pony in the early ’60s, around the time her father John F. Kennedy was president. The image stayed with him and he penned the song about five years later.

That explanation would seem to make sense because the Kennedy family is from Boston and it’s plausible that Caroline Kennedy has attended some Red Sox games. Diamond also performed the tune for her on her 50th birthday.


But just a few years after that interview, in 2014, Diamond confused everyone when he told CNN that the song was about his then-wife, Marcia. The only problem is the name Marcia has two syllables and Diamond needed three to fit the composition’s melody. He settled on Caroline.

Why is Sweet Caroline Played at Boston Red Sox Games?

So, “Sweet Caroline” has no real obvious connection to Boston, the Red Sox, or Fenway Park. But that all changed in 1997. (Fun fact: this is also the same year the Red Sox mascot, Wally the Green Monster, made his debut.)


That was when Fenway Park employee Amy Tobey, who was in charge of ballpark music selections at the time, decided to play the song in honor of a friend’s newborn baby that was named—you guessed it—Caroline. Fans began singing responsively and really seemed to get into it.


Being superstitious (because what baseball fan isn’t?) Tobey continued to play the song during the eighth inning over the next several years, but only when the Red Sox were winning. That meant if you attended a game there was no guarantee you were going to hear the song and be able to sing along to it.

So Good, So Good: Charles Steinberg Creates the 'Sweet Caroline' Fenway Park Tradition

Things changed yet again when Dr. Charles Steinberg accepted the position of Red Sox executive vice president of public affairs in 2002. One day he asked Fenway Park control room employee Danny Kischel if the crowd was going to get to hear “Sweet Caroline.” Upon being informed that the song was only played on “Sweet Caroline days” when the Red Sox were ahead, he decided that needed to change.


Steinberg felt the song had positive, transformative powers that would lift the fans’ spirits even if their home team wasn’t winning. From that day forward, “Sweet Caroline” became an anthem and has always been played during the eighth inning whether a Red Sox victory seems imminent or not.

Neil Diamond Performs 'Sweet Caroline' After the Boston Marathon Bombings

One of the most poignant historical moments for “Sweet Caroline” came in April 2013 when Neil Diamond arrived at Fenway Park to perform the song live during the first home game at Fenway following the Boston Marathon bombings. This display of #bostonstrong during an emotional first game further cemented the song’s legacy as a Red Sox anthem.


Diamond donated royalties from the song to One Fund Boston, and other baseball teams around the country played it as well in solidarity with the fans and the city.

It's Not Always So Sweet, Caroline: Why Some People Don't Like the Song

Not everyone is enamored with the choice of “Sweet Caroline” as a Boston Red Sox tradition. Some consider it a sign of what’s called “pink hat” fandom, which treats baseball as more of a social outing and less of a competitive game.


Critics have called the song corny, cheesy, silly, and even creepy as they point out how Neil Diamond was 30 years old at the time he penned it, while Caroline Kennedy (if you choose to believe his original explanation of what inspired it) was a preteen at the time.

Touchin' Warm: this Boston Red Sox Anthem is Here to Stay

Nonetheless, “Sweet Caroline” isn’t going away anytime soon and in fact, other sports teams around the world have adopted it for games as well. That includes the Oxford United Football Club in England and the Sydney Swans, which is a football club in Australia.


Charles Steinberg told the Boston Globe in 2013 that “Sweet Caroline” is “as much a part of a visit to Boston and Fenway Park as having clam chowder or a lobster roll.”


And all because of a baby named Caroline.

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