My wife and I lived in Boston for a long time before relocating to Florida. Our daughter was born there. In what has become something of a family tradition, we made plans to drive to Tampa to see the Boston Red Sox play the Tampa Bay Rays (formerly known as the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, but fundamentalist Christian groups found that name objectionable). We usually find these games enjoyable, due to the huge number of Red Sox fans who attend. Typically, the perennial first-place Red Sox kick the tar out of the perennial last-place Rays, which compensates us to some degree for the 4-hour round-trip drive.
But someone told us that the Tampa Bay ownership had decided, in their infinite wisdom, to host something called Cowbell Night. Every Tampa Bay fan wearing a Rays hat, t-shirt or team jersey would be given a cowbell at the door. We stopped off before the game and picked up some foam earplugs.
During the game, Tampa Bay fans created a hideous din, forcing me to use the earplugs. To make matters worse, Boston lost the game, their fourth loss in a row. Their best slugger went hitless all night, one player made a stupid base-running error, and they left the starting pitcher in for the whole game, despite clear evidence that he was tiring. It was depressing, but the depression was made physically painful by the constant clatter of those damn cowbells.
When I was living in Boston back in the 70’s and 80’s, my friends and I used to make fun of losing teams like Cleveland who played in an enormous stadium that was only filled to a fraction of its capacity by depressed fans. A home run would rattle around in empty bleacher seats. Tropicana field, where the Rays play, is a big, three-tier domed stadium, but when the Red Sox play, it’s filled nearly to capacity. A foul ball or home run drops into a sea of fans from both teams, eager to go home with a game ball.
I have to wonder how many Red Sox fans will show up next year, after suffering through Cowbell Night. I also have to wonder how many Tampa Bay fans found the noise as unpleasant as I did. Maybe ticket sales will decline next season as a direct result of Cowbell Night, and I can look forward to watching the games on TV, laughing at the home run balls bouncing around in empty seats.