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BOSTON -- Mitch Moreland wondered if anyone would show up. Brandon Workman prepared to watch a game he could not participate in by rule. J.D. Martinez dragged himself to work drained from two straight losses.
And then something kind of crazy and maybe even a little magical happened.
Fenway Park started filling with a crowd like no other in its history. Kids upon kids upon kids. Moms with strollers. Dads with one child on each hand and another on their shoulders. Kids in 4T Rafael Devers jerseys that won't fit by Christmas. Kids with gloves. Kids in caps. Kids of every race and nationality. Kids everywhere.
They were there for a unique experience. With the Red Sox concluding a suspended game against the Royals from Aug. 7, they basically opened the park to all comers. Kids under 18 got in for free, and everyone else needed only donate $5 to the Jimmy Fund.
The carnival atmosphere they created for what turned out to be only 12 minutes of baseball before Brock Holt sent the Red Sox on their way to San Diego with a 5-4 win, should give baseball some hope that the next generation of fans is not, in fact, lost.
"Dude, we said it today, it was the best atmosphere we've played in all year," Martinez said. "We were all saying it. It's crazy. Everyone was like, 'Man for real, there's a good energy in here.' Everybody noticed it. Everybody dancing, having a great time.
"I was tired before I came in, and now I'm fired up. These guys got me in the mood right now."
When every last turning of the stile was counted, 16,441 had entered the park for an afternoon they won't soon forget.
"I asked a couple of guys, I wonder how many fans will be here today with the situation like it was, work day, middle of the day," Moreland said. "Obviously Fenway never disappoints."
The Red Sox did their part, too. The strain of a long season has taken its toll on the defending champs, but for the first time in forever, the postgame clubhouse felt joyous. Players mocked Holt, the walk-off hero, for sprinting straight across the diamond to slide into home rather than be mobbed at second.
"I don't know what got into me," he said. "I was trying to dodge the guys and I saw home plate I just went for it."
As cameras assembled in the center of the clubhouse to interview the stars of the game -- Holt, catcher Christian Vazquez, reliever and winner Josh Taylor -- third base coach Carlos Febles strode into their midst and demanded to be interviewed.
"Any questions?" he asked in mock seriousness before saluting himself for waving home the winning run.
"Now we can get on an airplane, happy flight, couple cocktails – sorry, I didn't say that," Febles said. "Well, I've already said it. Get on the airplane, take a nap, and have fun in San Diego."
Across the clubhouse, an incredulous Andrew Benintendi and Holt watched in disbelief. "It's exactly what it looks like," a reporter told them. "He just called his own press conference."
"Sounds about right," Benintendi said.
"Did he get fired?" Holt joked.
Eight or so lockers away, shortstop Xander Bogaerts reflected on his own childhood in Aruba, when he was so excited to meet Braves outfielder Andruw Jones at a celebrity softball game, he asked him to sign the only item on his person.
"My Sony Ericson flip phone, bro," he said with a laugh. "I was right by the dugout back at home, and he was there and I asked him to sign my phone. Those are memories I still have, and I'm 20-whatever now, and I was so young at that time, I was so in awe."
The Red Sox opened the park early and let fans walk the warning track. They kept it open late, selling over 11,000 $1 hot dogs and letting kids run the bases while the stadium blasted everything from "Hey Soul Sister" by Train to "Hey Mr. DJ" by Zhane to "Safe and Sound" by Capital Cities. The Red Sox kept concessions open late while families posed for photos all over the park. At one point, two little girls raced around the bases -- one wearing a yin-yang t-shirt shaped like a panda, her blonde hair in a ponytail, the other sporting dark braids and wearing a glove for the entire journey.
"The kids gave us some great energy," Bogaerts said. "I was walking out to stretch and everyone was screaming like it was the World Series."
Manager Alex Cora wasn't sure what to expect. He prides himself on staying positive, but he admits wondering, "the way things have been going, we might play 16 innings." Instead they only played 12 minutes, giving the kids in attendance a lifelong memory.
"We've got to do everything possible to get the young fans involved in this beautiful game," Cora said. "For those kids, it's probably their first big league inning. That's what they're going to remember. We've got to remind them that this is not the pace we play. Usually we play four hour games. I praise the organization for the job they did. Hopefully we can get more young fans involved with Red Sox nation and they can enjoy it."
As the Red Sox prepared to catch a 2:30 bus to the airport for the six-hour flight to San Diego, they had a hop in their step.
"We had a really good time," Martinez said. "The energy was amazing. We were all laughing about it. It was the perfect day. Come in, show up, play an inning, and you're done."
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