I almost never play “Don’t Stop Believin'” in the park. For me, the song will always be about the playoff chase in 2004, and the fact that college kids play it every night to close down the bars drives me gently up the wall. I’ve played the song only twice: once a snippet in the 13th or 14th inning of a rainy night game against the Yankees, figuring that the folks left in the park deserved it. The second occasion was a little more fun and a lot more notable.
The first six innings of Game 5 in the 2008 ALCS were agony. When Ortiz hit his homer in the 7th, making the score 7-4, the park finally came alive, and from that point on Fenway Park was rabid. After Coco scored Kotsay to tie the game in the 8th, we rolled “More Than A Feeling” by Boston, starting about 35 seconds just as the guitars build to the main rhythm of the song.
On a side note, I’d decided to play Boston when the count was already 3-2; if he hadn’t fouled off so many pitches, I would never have had time to cue the song properly. The inning breaks in the playoffs are longer than those in the regular season, and “More Than A Feeling” played through two choruses with parts of the crowd singing, some banging their heads, and some even playing air guitar.
Francona had already used Papelbon, and Masterson came in to pitch the top of the 9th. The tension in the park was building past anything I’d ever seen. We were scheduled to play a rally music video and then some other music I can’t even remember what it was leading into the bottom of the 9th.
In the time it took to get those three outs, we quickly talked over options and changed the program. What I said to the director, my boss, was “You know that song I never want to play? I would like to play it”.
Just as Pedroia & Lowrie turned the double play ending the inning, “Don’t Stop Believin'” rolled, starting at the guitar effects between the first and second verses about a minute into the song. The score was tied at 7 going into the bottom of the 9th, and because of those long inning breaks, the song rolled all the way through to the end.
I still remember looking out the control room window. I had heard the phrase “a sea of people” used to describe large crowds before, but this was the first time I truly understood it. More than 38,000 people were jumping, cheering, crying, pounding each other on the back and exchanging high fives, but for three minutes it seemed every single fan was screaming along together to every word of “Don’t Stop Believin” at the top of their lungs.
I’ve never felt energy like that, and the bottom of the ninth was a harrowing wonder in exactly the way that only playoff baseball can be. While I often say my favorite song to play at the park is “Dirty Water” (and it is), those three innings of ALCS Game 5 came at the end of my first full-time year doing the music at the park, and I can’t imagine I will ever forget what it felt l ike to be there, among all those people, friends and strangers, united in that moment.
JD Drew’s final, walk-off at-bat: