Red Sox Opening Day: Merch, stress and 'guarded optimism'Play
Opening Day for the Red Sox is almost here.
The Sox will host the Baltimore Orioles this Thursday, and Boston fans are hoping for a turnaround this year after a dismal 2022 season.
The Sox finished in last place in the American League East, and it wasn’t even close.
Still, devoted followers keep the faith. Tim Pettit sees that phenomenon every day.
The Newton native and lifelong diehard Sox fan is a manager at the Red Sox Team Store. The business across the street from Fenway Park was founded in 1947 by Arthur and Henry D’Angelo and is still owned by the D’Angelo family; Pettit has been working there since he was a teenager in the mid-1990s.
Last week, taking a brief break from setting up for this week's mega-influx of customers, he said that hope does indeed spring eternal.
“I always am optimistic going into the season,” Pettit said. “I’ve seen everything from the Red Sox in the total depths of the curse to finally, you know, getting over that hill and doing it. And I think that if you want to continue to be a Red Sox fan, you have to have that guarded optimism."
In terms of the chances for redemption, Pettit pointed out that baseball has advantages over other sports.
“I think baseball is unique in that way — it's such a long season,” Pettit said. “Most fans know that there is enough time in any given season for things to turn around. So you always have to have your eye on them.”
Pettit acknowledged that, at this juncture, he’s focused less on the game and more on retail.
“The start of the season, to me personally, is always a time of chaos. It's a race against the clock every year for us," he said. "To get the store together and have it ready for 35,000 people on opening day is always a struggle, because we're getting new merchandise in literally the morning of that Opening Day.”
Taking a moment to survey the scene in the emporium of everything Red Sox, Pettit said he understands why fans care about making wardrobe decisions with pinpoint control.
“When you're wearing a [shirt with a] player’s name, you're making a statement, right?" he said. "You're suggesting [that] ‘I relate to this player because maybe I play the same position, or I have a similar personality, or maybe I just really am a quiet person and a really loud, vibrant player is my favorite because maybe I can kind of live vicariously through that experience.’”
“It's all about identity,” he added. “What we wear is a message to the world of how we see ourselves and what type of image we'd like to project.”
Pettit said the gear also builds community.
“There's also a little bit of a bond when you see someone wearing that same shirt,” Pettit said. “The players do notice. I think they would probably not admit to it, but I think when they see a lot of fans wearing their jersey, their shirt, that must give them a little thrill, right? I mean, this is what they do it for.”
And what about the swarms of folks opting for shirts of flash-in-the-pan Sox standouts from earlier this same lifetime? Pettit suggested he has some insights into the psychology at play.
“That speaks to how passionate the Red Sox fan base is,” he said. “For that person wearing the Wily Mo Peña shirt or the Rich Garcés shirt, they probably already owned a Nomar and a Pedro and an Ortiz shirt. And so they're looking to kind of complement that."
Pettit said these jerseys are also a "wink and nod" to other hardcore fans.
"I'm not just in it for the superstar. I can name you everybody in that lineup. I can name you the setup man. I can name you the backup catcher. I kind of know what's what.”
Pettit said it’s not always obvious which new or vintage merchandise will catch on in any season, but he tries to plan wisely to meet demand.
And now, with Opening Day almost in the on-deck circle, the Red Sox Team Store guy does want to offer the 2023 Red Sox one bit of advice:
“We would just encourage them, ‘Hey, win!’” Pettit said with a laugh. “That's always good for business."
This segment aired on March 26, 2023.