Fans return to Fenway Park for Opening Day with mixed emotions

Fans line outside Fenway Park to see the first Red Sox game in a year an a half. Photo by Matteo Venieri/BU News Service

By Matteo Venieri
Boston University News Service

It’s April and still freezing cold, but that’s arguably the only typical aspect of this year’s Opening Day. For the first time since September 2019, Fenway Park welcomed back fans as the Red Sox faced the Baltimore Orioles on Friday afternoon.

After waiting 550 days — plus one extra day due to yesterday’s bad weather — fans finally made their way back to America’s oldest ballpark, albeit in small numbers and with mixed feelings.

Chuck Strickland, a Red Sox fan, arrived at the game with his daughter, Milena, in full Red Sox gear for this 22nd home opener in the last 23 seasons. His spirit, however, wasn’t as high as it was in previous years.

“It’s weird. Normally, this road is packed shoulder to shoulder,” Strickland said, pointing at a sparsely populated Lansdowne street. “It’s interesting to have it open, but it’s going to be a little different. I’m just happy I got a chance to get in.”

As Massachusetts enters Phase 4 of the state’s reopening plan, fans are now allowed back in stadiums and arenas, but in a limited capacity. With only 12% of the seats open to the public, roughly 4,500 lucky fans were able to purchase a ticket, with prices on Stubhub ranging from $148 to $1,370 for a seat in the dugout box.

Chuck Strickland and his daughter Milena make their way to Fenway Park for Opening Day. Photo by Matteo Venieri/BU News Service

To ensure a safe environment, the team created a series of new protocols, like canceling all interactions between players and fans, dividing the various seating sections into pods of two to four seats each and asking patrons to wear a mask at all times.

Strickland, who was wearing a Red Sox-themed mask, said he had no reservations about being around large crowds and criticized the new stadium rules.

“I think wearing this mask is stupid,” Strickland said. “We’re going to be outside in the air and they’re going to make me wear my mask: we should just be able to breathe. People aren’t getting sick outside — I don’t think so.”

Prior to opening its doors to baseball fans, the ballpark operated for months as a vaccination site, administering more than 55,000 doses before transferring its operations to the Hynes Convention Center for logistical reasons.

Carried by the chilly wind, the unmistakable smell of sausage made its triumphant return to Fenway as well. 

As a street food vendor since 1972, Che-Chi has fed generations of Red Sox fans with his food cart, The original Che-Chi’s. Parked below the Green Monster, he welcomed back his customers, albeit with tepid enthusiasm.

“It’s a little different, but it’s okay,” Che-Chi said. “I don’t see any energy around today. Things need to be opened up a little more. Then I think the enthusiasm will increase with that. Right now, it’s not there.”

Other fans, however, saw were optimistic about the changes made for this season and arrived at the game full of energy, like Jessica Shactnam.

Dominic McCloud, the “Big Papi” impersonator, is a fan favorite among Red Sox supporters. Photo by Matteo Venieri/BU News Service

“This is my favorite day of the year,” Shactnam said. “It’s great just being able to be outside with other people who love the Red Sox. Following the team on TV wasn’t the same thing: there was a disconnect not being able to come to the game. And [there was] just a different feeling because of the pandemic.”

While David Ortiz could not make it to the game, the baseball legend was proudly represented by Dominic McCloud, a “Big Papi” doppelgänger.

Nicknamed “Little Papi” since high school, the Boston native spent a good portion of the afternoon surrounded by a plethora of fans. 

“It feels good to be back in Fenway. I love the energy,” McCloud said. “Usually, there are a lot more people, usually more kids, but it’s good to be back. There’s nothing like being here.”

The Red Sox went on to be blanked by the Orioles, 3-0.

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