Neil Diamond and the Boston Red Sox are two American institutions with a very loyal following. And since the late '90s these two pop culture icons have been linked together through one of the more odd traditions at Fenway Park.At every Red Sox home game, Diamond's classic Sweet Caroline is played on the ballpark's speakers before the bottom of the 8th inning. The sing-along song has become such a Fenway staple that it was even included in the 2005 movie Fever Pitch.Most Sox fans, and moviegoers, are aware that Sweet Caroline is played as often at Fenway Park as The Star-Spangled Banner. But very few people know the reason why."I'm not sure how it started, but we're very pleased that it happened," Diamond's press agent, Sherrie Levy, said.The song itself was born out of humble beginnings, written in less than an hour by Diamond in a Memphis hotel room the day before a recording session. It debuted as a single on June 28, 1969.Sweet Caroline eventually reached #4 on the Billboard chart and over two million copies of the song were sold. But how did it become the 8th inning anthem at Fenway Park, where annual attendance easily tops two million folks?Legend has it that former Red Sox public address announcer Ed Brickley requested the song to be played as a tribute to the appropriately named newborn daughter of Billy Fitzpatrick, who worked in the Fenway Park control room for 20 years.In reality, the song got its start at Fenway Park thanks to Amy Tobey, who was the ballpark's music director from 1998 to 2004. She was responsible for choosing the music to be played between innings and picked Sweet Caroline simply because she had heard it played at other sporting events.At first, Tobey played the song at random games sometime between the seventh and ninth innings, and only if the Red Sox were ahead. Tobey considered the song a good luck charm and it soon became something the fans anticipated.But it wasn't until 2002, when John Henry's group bought the Red Sox, that Sweet Caroline become an official Fenway tradition. That's when the new ownership requested that Tobey play the song during the eighth inning of every game.Today Megan Kaiser is the person who chooses the between innings songs at Fenway Park, with the 8th inning exception.Kaiser did add a slightly new touch to the playback of Diamond's tune, as she turns off the sound during the most popular parts of the song. Red Sox fans know the words by heart now so they don't need much help with the lyrics, and the song has become an important part of the ballpark atmosphere."Singing Sweet Caroline. That's cool," said Red Sox third basemen Mike Lowell when asked about the vibe at Fenway Park.How the song became so popular in the first place is another story, and no less than the songwriter himself is mystified at the success of Sweet Caroline. "No way to explain it. That's one of the mysteries of songwriting," says Diamond, who has written and recorded 38 Top 40 hits in his career.As hard as it is to explain, Neil Diamond's catchy song has found a place as part of Red Sox Nation lore, and by mixing Sweet Caroline with the Fenway faithful good times have never seemed so good.
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