Neil Diamond sings '"Sweet Caroline" during the eighth… (Michael Dwyer / Associated…)
There’s a musical tradition when the eighth inning arrives at Fenway Park -- the playing of a recording of Neil Diamond singing "Sweet Caroline."
Since 2002, Red Sox fans have grown accustomed to hearing Diamond’s voice:
Hands, touching hands
Reaching out, touching me, touching you
It’s an appropriate sentiment for a city reeling from the Boston Marathon bombings. And on Saturday, the 72-year-old composer and singer decided to deliver the message in person.
Diamond flew to Boston, calling officials at Fenway Park about 40 minutes before the first pitch to say he was in the city.
So when the eighth inning arrived, Diamond walked on to the field.
"I bring love from the whole country," Diamond, wearing a Red Sox hat, told the crowd. He waved encouragingly as "Sweet Caroline" began to play on the loudspeakers. He sang along, his voice soaring on the familiar chorus:
Good times never seemed so good
His presence, along with special pre-game ceremonies and a Red Sox victory over the Kansas City Royals, was a boost for a city in need of one.
"That was really incredible," Chris Hartman, who attended the game, told the Los Angeles Times. "The fact that he came out and no one expected it was a major lift. People loved it."
On the day of the marathon, Hartman was about two blocks away from the site of the second explosion.
The days that followed see-sawed between numb horror and normalcy, he said. He and his wife, Leigh Montgomery, went to see the Boston Symphony Orchestra on Thursday night, hoping for a light evening in a dark week.
Even there, Monday’s tragedy hung close. The symphony announced that it had dedicated the night to those affected by the bombings, and some of the musicians had worn running clothes instead of formal dress.
At the Red Sox game, music was a thread of healing and unity, like a "secular church service," Montgomery said.
"It was a catharsis. People were singing a cappella. ... And we were all singing with one voice."
"Sweet Caroline" has played at stadiums throughout the country all week. In a bold way, Fenway Park reclaimed the song as its own Saturday.
David Crowley said he hadn't planned to be at the stadium that day. He got a text message in the morning from a friend, offering a pair of tickets.
He took his 7-year-old son to the game. Together, they sat in the stands and listened as survivors, first responders and law enforcement officials spoke to the crowd, and slugger David Ortiz dropped a strongly worded, defiant statement: "This is our ... city."
Crowley, in an interview, said he also noticed something else: The Standells’ song "Love that Dirty Water" normally plays at the end of a Red Sox victory. "Boston, you’re my home."
On Saturday, it played during the pregame ceremonies -- declaring victory ahead of time.
[For the record, April 22, 2013: An earlier version of this post gave an incorrect last name for Chris Hartman.]
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