How Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” Became a Boston Baseball Tradition

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Echoing from the depths of Fenway Park, a familiar bum, bum, bum can be heard through the nearby streets of Boston, Massachusetts. It is a building chorus of fans all singing along to Neil Diamond’s 1969 hit “Sweet Caroline.”

The infectious song, easily singable with crowd-friendly flourishes, is no stranger to the realm of sports. But no fan group sings “Sweet Caroline” like the Red Sox Nation. That is because no team has such a strong, however innocuous, tie to the classic.

Where It Began

“Sweet Caroline” became a Red Sox game day tradition not because its singer is a native Bostonian – he’s not – and not because it’s simply catchy and memorable – it is. “Sweet Caroline,” instead, became a tradition because of a baby.

That’s right, a baby. During a game in 1997, a Fenway employee named Amy Tobey was in charge of the music played at the ballpark. She played “Sweet Caroline” over the speakers as an homage to a friend who had just given birth to a sweet baby Caroline.

According to MLB.com, from then on, the song was only played on select occasions at Fenway until Charles Steinberg made it a tradition.

In 2002, Steinberg became an executive vice president of public affairs for the Red Sox and witnessed firsthand the influence of the song during game day. He described the song as having “transformative powers.”

“The Red Sox would play it once in a while … It wasn’t an anthem,” he said at the time. “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.”

So Steinberg called for every game day to be a “Sweet Caroline” day and the tradition hasn’t halted since.

The Tradition Today

“Sweet Caroline” is now a full-time eighth-inning staple of the Boston Red Sox.

The iconic vocalist himself has performed the song live for fans at Fenway a number of times, most notably after the Boston Marathon bombing in April 2013. He led the crowd in a touching rendition of the classic.

At that moment, the song became more than a sports sing-a-long. It became a rallying song to a city in the midst of tragedy. When sales of “Sweet Caroline” surged soon after, Diamond donated those royalties to the One Fund Boston charity to help those affected by the bombings. Watch the game day performance below.

Photo: Capitol Records

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