Catching Up With Sweet Caroline
Neil Diamond’s famous song “Sweet Caroline,” which celebrated its 50th anniversary in August 2019, has transcended through the generations with its easy-breezy melody and ability to bring out immense camaraderie amongst its audience. The song has become a monumental aspect to the Fenway Park experience, with fans rising on their feet to sway and sing the song in the middle of the eighth inning before the Red Sox come to bat. Most commonly associated with the team, oftentimes baseball fans, Bostonians and curious minds alike have wondered why Diamond’s song is automatically synonymous with the thought of the Red Sox and “America’s Most Beloved Ballpark.”
Where it began? To begin to know, you must start in the Fenway Park music department during the 1999 Boston Red Sox season.
The story of “Sweet Caroline” as a staple of the Boston Red Sox franchise is most often linked to former music department employee Amy Tobey. In numerous reports that have tried to tackle the legend of “Sweet Caroline,” Tobey is the name that comes up the most frequently. In many different accounts, she is named as the employee that requested for “Sweet Caroline” to be played in the few seasons before Boston’s long-awaited World Series championship in 2004. Legend has it that Tobey enjoyed the song and had it played when the Red Sox were ahead late in games and the energy from the crowd seemed to be positively contagious.
At the root of it all stands a clear reason why Diamond’s power ballad has become a rallying cry for anyone who has ever been sucked into the charming allure of Red Sox Nation. In December 1998, now-former Red Sox music department employee Billy Fitzpatrick and his wife gave birth to a daughter. That baby girl, Caroline, was honored with “Sweet Caroline” the following season, a tribute to her name and the love for her within the Fenway Park community.
No longer the Red Sox’ baby girl, Caroline Fitzpatrick, a 21-year-old junior with a psychology and dance dual major at the University of New Hampshire, has come to fully embrace her truth as an integral chapter of Red Sox lore.
“When I was little I didn’t support it at all. I was such a shy kid. I always hated bringing it up when I was little,” she told me recently. “I definitely have grown to embrace it a lot more with age, I guess.”
The publicity that Fitzpatrick has received, though relatively minimal comparative to her immense Red Sox royalty, proves the facts. Along with old newspaper clippings from her town’s local newspaper and a brief alluding to in former Red Sox manager Terry Francona’s book, she was once asked to be on a New England Sports Network (NESN) Red Sox DVD special reprising her role amongst the Fenway faithful as “Sweet Caroline.”
“My mom would play the DVD and I would run into the other room,” she said.
Better yet, in a video created by the Boston Red Sox’ official YouTube account in April 2019, former Red Sox Executive Vice President Dr. Charles Steinberg confirmed the truth; though Tobey brought about its popularity by continuing to play it around the turn of the millennium, it was initially played as a congratulatory tribute to the Fitzpatrick family on the welcoming of their baby girl.
In an “Ask Me Anything” session that Neil Diamond did online with Reddit in 2014, Fitzpatrick’s cousin told Diamond of their family’s connection to the song because of Caroline’s father’s former employment with the team and Caroline’s birth. Diamond wrote that he “felt a connection with a higher force” as he was writing the song at a “low point” in his career. In turn, he wrote that he feels people love it because it connects them to something intangible, yet emotionally moving.
“...I think that’s why people are attracted to it and love it in a way, because it connects them to that higher spiritual force, and it’s been used as a good luck song for teams all over the world, cricket players in Hong Kong, it’s the official closing song of Oktoberfest in Germany, Penn State plays it at their football games, and of course, the Red Sox play it in the 8th Inning at home games... I love that, I love it,” Diamond wrote in response to Fitzpatrick’s cousin.
Although she’s admittedly not a huge sports fan, Fitzpatrick understands the rich history of the organization and its home at Fenway—the oldest ballpark in Major League Baseball. With that, she has come to absorb what the playing
of “Sweet Caroline” in the eighth inning of every home game means to the faithful fans. Whether played in recent championship seasons (2004, 2007, 2013 and 2018) or in disappointing last-place seasons, “Sweet Caroline” serves a sole purpose: To keep the togetherness flowing and the spirit of Red Sox Nation alive.
“I think it’s awesome, cause it’s something that’s so chance. It could’ve really been anyone. I’m kind of part of something so big,” Fitzpatrick said.
Funny enough, Fitzpatrick isn’t even much of a fan of the song itself, saying that there’s some “goofy energy” in the song that doesn’t exactly resonate with her. However, even though she hasn’t been to a game since she was 12, one of her favorite aspects of the Fenway Park experience is the eighth inning tradition of standing up to sing the song before the Red Sox come to bat.
“I don’t exactly like the song, but I like the legacy,” she said. “I feel like it really unifies Boston.”
Though she used to feel as if she was leading a stressful “Hannah Montana”-esque double life, the days of innocently shying away from her unique identity are long gone. No longer running away from the truth, Fitzpatrick has embraced the story, her place within Boston Red Sox culture and has used it to her advantage as she’s come of age, even admitting that she has used the story and her baseball royalty as a pickup line in the past.
She's the unknown queen of the eighth inning, a necessary yet underappreciated aspect of the Red Sox experience. She’s Caroline Fitzpatrick: An everlasting legacy within the thunderous pulse of Red Sox Nation. What could be sweeter than that?