Tonight is a night that would usually be circled on the schedule each and every year. This is the final game that will be played at Fenway Park in 2020, with the Red Sox heading out to Atlanta this weekend to finish up the season. Obviously the hope at the start of any given season is that the final game at Fenway will actually be in October, but we know that’s not always the case and there’s always a solid chance whenever the regular season home finale takes place is the last time we’ll see action at the home park in the calendar year. This season, though, it doesn’t really feel like an event at all, or really anything of significance. It’s just another day, for some obvious reasons.
The biggest reason is obviously the fact that the ongoing pandemic has prevented fans (except for that one guy) from entering the park at all this year. That is part of the significance of the final home game, that this is the last chance for the fans of the club to go in person and see their favorite team and their favorite players. More somberly, it is also the time to say good-bye to players who could be on their way out the door. Nobody knows what’s going to happen in any given offseason, and that goes doubly for a winter like the one coming up. But we generally have an idea of who could be on their way out the door, and the home finale is the time to show our appreciation for that player’s time.
For this season, the player that should get that deserved appreciation but will only get it from some pre-recorded crowd in Jackie Bradley Jr. Now, as I said, we don’t know what’s going to happen. I actually think there’s a decent enough chance they could come together for another contract this winter. But the fact of the matter is that Bradley is a free agent after the season and there’s apparently been no extension talks between the two. Bradley will have his chance to find a new organization, and the Red Sox a chance to find a new center fielder.
In a way, this feels more significant than some other recent departures because of how Bradley brought most of his value. We all know there was constant frustration with his performance at the plate, and there was a segment of the fan base who wanted him replaced in the lineup a whole lot over the last few years. But on the other side of the coin, Bradley was one of the very best defensive outfielders to call Fenway Park home. Ever. Period. And when you’re a defensive outfielder, you are just naturally more connected to your home park than anybody else. Part of baseball’s allure is that every park is different, and the differences come in the outfield.
For Jackie Bradley Jr. we have years and years of memories of him crashing against the Monster, navigating the triangle, reaching over the short wall in right and masterfully learning the bounces of the Monster and throwing out unsuspecting runners at second base who thought they had an easy double. That last part fittingly took place on Wednesday in his penultimate game at home.
If and when Bradley does find another organization, we’re going to have plenty of time to look back at his career in Boston, the good and the bad. But there’s no doubt he was easy to root for no matter how frustrated you got with the bat at times. The defense, the personality, the clutch swings — remember, he won the ALCS MVP in 2018 basically because of two big swings — are all cemented in his legacy as a fan favorite for many. And the fact that he is potentially playing his last game in the park with which he will always be connected while not being able to say good-bye and, more importantly, not having the fans be able to show their appreciation for his time here? Well, that’s just another tremendous bummer to be placed on the giant pile of them that is 2020.