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Red Sox to set MLB sellout record

Red Sox to set MLB sellout record

BOSTON -- At the time, there was no reason to think May 15, 2003, was anything but another Thursday on the Fenway Park schedule. The Red Sox defeated the Texas Rangers by a score of 14-3 that night, backed by Pedro Martinez's pitching and the offensive firepower of Nomar Garciaparra, Bill Mueller and Jason Varitek.

And yes, there was a sellout at Fenway Park to cheer the home team through that win. For whatever reason, that was when the never-ending string of packed houses started at the historic bandbox on Yawkey Way. More than five years later, it has yet to stop.

When the Red Sox take on the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday night to kick off their next homestand, they will make baseball history.

Well, check that. Red Sox fans will make baseball history. The 456th consecutive sellout at Fenway Park will break the record set by the Cleveland Indians' die-hards, who packed Jacobs Field for all 455 home games played from June 12, 1995-April 2, 2001.

Who could have seen a record like this coming back in 2003, when the Red Sox were consumed with trying to snap a so-called curse -- or championship drought -- that had lasted more than eight decades?

"While we recognized and appreciated the incredible passion for the Red Sox, I do not think any of us in the front office could have imagined that this streak was about to begin," said Sam Kennedy, executive vice president/chief sales and marketing officer for the Red Sox. "We are humbled by the commitment of the best fans in baseball, and to be clear, this is their record, not ours. The club is simply the vehicle they have used to accomplish this incredible feat."

Varitek, David Ortiz, Tim Wakefield and Mike Timlin are the four Boston players who have been with the team throughout the record-setting streak, while countless others have either departed or arrived, all the while riding the wave of the passionate home crowds.

"I value it, I've enjoyed it -- I don't know how much longer I'll get to enjoy it," said Varitek, the captain, who is eligible for free agency in November. "I know I have the rest of this month, and I appreciate it. I think it's a big boost to this team's success."

Varitek, who endures an exhausting workload behind the plate, knows full well what the extra shot of adrenaline has meant to his team during a storied time in which they've won the World Series twice (2004 and '07).

"You're coming to a stadium where you know it's going to be sold out and you know that they're going to be excited. You come to the yard and you know that they're going to be ready and rooting behind you, and even when you're down, they'll be rooting for a comeback."
-- Center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury

"Just, every day, they've brought excitement," Varitek said. "You have a lot of days throughout a season -- you're dragging, down, you're tired, you're sore, you're hurt -- and that energy sometimes brings you through those tough moments."

Whenever Red Sox manager Terry Francona is asked about a so-called "big game" on the schedule, he speaks of how every single game he's managed in Boston has felt big or playoff-like.

That speaks largely of the atmosphere that has filled the seats at Fenway, from the box seats to the grandstands, to the bleachers to the roof boxes and the Monster Seats.

Francona -- who managed for four frustrating seasons in Philadelphia -- finds it almost mind-boggling that he's never managed a home game that didn't sell out in his time with the Red Sox, which is nearing the end of its fifth season.

"Think about that," Francona said. "That's unbelievable. It's the norm. And I hope, when I say it's the norm, that we don't ever get to the point where you kind of take it for granted. We have a great situation going right now. Our team is very popular. Fans just want to keep coming to the games. Hopefully, that will last for a long time. We have a great situation."

Because the subject at hand is sellouts, it is fair to ask exactly what constitutes one.

"The criteria used for a sellout at Fenway Park have been the same since the early 1990s," Kennedy said in an e-mail. "Our policy is simple and straightforward, and is used by many MLB clubs [and other sports teams around the country]. A sellout occurs when the number of tickets distributed to spectators is equal to or greater than the seating capacity at Fenway Park. [The 2008 seating capacity is 36,984 for day games and 37,400 for night games]."

The Red Sox continue to reach those numbers and then some. And throughout the streak, the one other constant is that the Red Sox have played dominant baseball at home.

"You're coming to a stadium where you know it's going to be sold out and you know that they're going to be excited," said Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury. "You come to the yard and you know that they're going to be ready and rooting behind you, and even when you're down, they'll be rooting for a comeback."

"For the players, this is the ultimate environment for playing baseball. Everyone on the club has worked very hard to keep it going, and the fans have shown up, and we all appreciate it. I hope it goes on for a long, long time."
-- Right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka

It's not as if fans come every day to gawk at the Green Monster. The product has continually proven to be worth the price of admission.

"I think it's just the passion of the fans now with the success of the Red Sox," said first baseman Kevin Youkilis. "Having success will bring you fans. Ownership, management, coaches and players, we keep them coming back by winning and going out and performing well. It takes an all-around effort from everyone."

With the long-standing passion for the Red Sox, perhaps a streak like this was ripe once the team -- behind the ownership of John W. Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino and the front office led by Theo Epstein -- turned into what many view to be the model franchise in Major League Baseball.

"Generations of families have rooted for this team, long before any of us got here," said Kennedy. "After that, the other contributing factors have been ownership's commitment of resources to a) field a competitive team and to b) preserve and protect Fenway Park. Winning baseball games, combined with a more comfortable and fan-friendly facility, have created this atmosphere."

As with any such streak, there has also been some behind-the-scenes work to keep it going.

"Finally, we also have to credit our tireless ticket operations team who does everything they can to ensure our 'course management' system works," said Kennedy. "We study each and every game as soon as the upcoming season schedule comes out to be sure we set proper sales timelines, rank games by demand, package games appropriately [with Sox Pax] and engage our marketing team to promote areas of vulnerability."

At the end of the day, the most vulnerable thing at Fenway is usually the visiting team.

"There's always an adrenaline rush here just because the energy is always here," said Youkilis.

"For the players, this is the ultimate environment for playing baseball," added Red Sox right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka. "Everyone on the club has worked very hard to keep it going, and the fans have shown up, and we all appreciate it. I hope it goes on for a long, long time."

Do the Red Sox ever take fan support for granted?

"Never," said Kennedy. "We literally discuss this point every day. John, Tom and Larry have over 60 years of baseball experience between them [in various markets]. They remind us all the time how special this is."

And now, there will be a Major League record to serve as tangible proof.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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