It started as a personal tribute that became a superstition, but more on that later. “Sweet Caroline” plays at Fenway Park during the seventh-inning stretch to a chorus of enthusiastic Red Sox fans. The tradition is a contemporary addition to Fenway ballpark’s storied legacy.
The stadium, home to the Red Sox since 1912, is a national treasure in itself. And now “Sweet Caroline,” a classic song from 1969, is part of that legacy. Old school fans tend to balk at the newer tradition, but the song has a legacy all its own.
A Song About a Girl Named Caroline
Neil Diamond revealed the inspiration for “Sweet Caroline” at a 2007 birthday party for Caroline Kennedy. The daughter of President John F. Kennedy was turning 50, and the legendary singer was invited as a guest performer. He took the opportunity to tell the backstory. He wanted to thank her for the inspiration since the song was one of his biggest hits.
He said it all started when a published photograph of Caroline at 11 years old caught his eye. He was concerned the revelation would make the guest of honor uncomfortable, but, instead, she seemed flattered.
Diamond Saw the Photo Five Years Before Writing the Song
Back in the early ‘60s, when Diamond was a struggling artist staying at a hotel, he noticed little Caroline on the cover of "Life" magazine. She was as cute as could be, dressed to the tee in riding gear astride her pony. He said he knew there was a song in that image as soon as he saw it.
Five years later, the song came to him. By then, he was married to his first wife, Marcia, so, according to Diamond in 2014, it was also inspired by her. The only thing was that he could not find a rhyme for Marcia.
The Very First Time ‘Sweet Caroline’ Played at Fenway Park
It was a fluke. Amy Tobey, the stadium DJ, played Diamond’s catchy song as a shout-out to her friend who just had a baby. The infant’s name was, you guessed it, Caroline. The crowd loved it. Tobey responded by playing “Sweet Caroline” whenever the Red Sox had some momentum, but only between the seventh and ninth innings and only when they were winning.
She considered it a good luck charm, but she couldn’t help feeling superstitious when Fenway Park management demanded it plays going into the eighth inning of each game.
The Charm Worked
It wasn’t like Tobey had a choice. The orders came from the top. It was in 2002 when Dr. Charles Steinberg became vice president of public affairs at Fenway. He was convinced that the classic show tune contained “transformative powers” and would become a team rally song.
His inkling was correct, and the rest is history. It’s now the fan anthem he hoped it would be and central to the Fenway Park experience.