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by Kimberli Hull
For the past few years, before the Red Sox have headed off to Florida for spring training, they've hosted a weekend get together for the Fenway Faithful at Foxwoods Resort and Casino. Back in November, we hit the "sign us up!" button for the Red Sox Winter Weekend the day tickets became available. We weren't alone - the 2018 event, which was held on January 19-21, sold out very early, with reports of close to 7,000 in attendance.
We signed up for Winter Weekend because it sounded fun and interesting, but honestly, we had no clue what Red Sox Winter Weekend would be like. Sure, we'd read the schedule, but we still wondered who would be there, if this was really just a "kid thing" or if there was something for all ages, and ultimately, would it be worth what we'd sunk into the weekend? The event itself was only $65 per person, but staying at Foxwoods is a little pricey. Even with the Red Sox hotel discount, our two tickets and two hotel room nights put us back a total of $745 - and that didn't include the cost of transportation to the event and dining at Foxwoods, which can also be pretty expensive.
Winter Weekend Prep
A couple of weeks prior to the event we received an email to sign up for our preferred sessions - one guaranteed autograph signing/photo session per attendee and one panel discussion per attendee. We made our selections and pre-registered for the events and, on Friday the 19th, we headed to Connecticut for our first Red Sox Winter Weekend.
For autographs, we purchased two MLB balls in advance and brought a game ball Greg had snagged last summer at a Sox game in Toronto. However, after arriving, we found balls and other memorabilia were available for sale in the gift shop in the Winter Weekend Fan Fest center (but we got a much better deal on the internet).
While some attendees came equipped with cameras, we decided to leave ours at home and just went with iPhone shots for the weekend. We did make sure to bring comfortable shoes, a necessity as the hotel is sprawling (we walked 8 miles the first day, 6 miles the second).
Redsox Winter Weekend 2018
Arriving at Foxwoods, we were engulfed in a sea of Red Sox fans - young, old and everywhere in between. We'd booked our rooms through the Red Sox website and were quickly checked into our room in the Fox Tower.
We had a nice king room with a western view overlooking the forest. Our welcome package included tickets and wristbands for the Winter Weekend events we'd chosen, some general event information, and two grandstand tickets for a game at Fenway in April.
Winter Weekend: Redsox Town Hall
After an early dinner, we headed over to line up at the Grand Theatre entrance for the opening night event, the Red Sox Town Hall. During the wait to enter, Wally and Tessie, the loveable Fenway mascots, hung out with the fans, giving hugs and taking photos.
The Red Sox Town Hall was open to all Winter Weekend attendees. Upon entering, we found aisle seats in a general admission side section a couple of rows behind the seats reserved down front for season pass holders.
Kicking off the Town Hall, the 2018 Red Sox coaches, team members, and a few former players were introduced individually, making a dramatic entrance from the back of the auditorium, high-fiving fans as they made their way to the stage.
Providing a high-energy start to the evening, the players seemed to have as much fun as the fans as they made their way through the roaring crowd.
Once everyone was on stage, Winter Weekend attendees had their first view of the 2018 Boston Red Sox team and coaches, with the exception of a few players not in attendance and, of course, any that may be acquired in the final few weeks before spring training.
Red Sox chairman, Tom Werner, Red Sox President and CEO, Sam Kennedy, Red Sox President of Baseball Operations, Dave Dombrowski, and the team’s new manager, Alex Cora, were joined by fan favorites, David Ortiz and Pedro Martinez, for an entertaining roundtable discussion and a fan Q&A. The Town Hall was excellent, providing an evening of excitement, humor, insight and fun for all attending.
NESN was on hand to emcee and record the Town Hall and other activities throughout the weekend, with the Winter Weekend broadcast available for viewing by Red Sox Nation multiple times in the weeks following the event.
Winter Weekend: Fan Fest and Trophy Room
The Winter Weekend Fan Fest was a huge area with a multitude of activities for fans of all ages including pitching and batting cages, Wiffle Ball, the NESN Zone, the VR Dugout, Ballpark Eats, a beer garden (with more than beer), and a merchandise area. While visiting, we picked up some Winter Weekend gear and four of the special offer half-price $50 gift cards good for merchandise back at the Red Sox Team Store in Boston.
One of the highlights of the Fan Fest zone (and I think missed by many because it was very low traffic whenever we stopped by or looked in) was the trophy room next to the main Fan Fest room. Visitors could view the Silver Slugger awards and Gold Gloves that have been won by Red Sox players and fans could take a photo with the 2004, 2007 and 2013 World Series Trophies. Amazing!
Winter Weekend: Ticket Town
The Fan Fest area was also the site of Ticket Town, where attendees could purchase June, July, and August single game tickets prior to the tickets being made available to the general public. We purchased tickets for 18 summer games at Ticket Town and got great seats. The purchasing process was quick and easy, working directly with the helpful Winter Weekend Red Sox ticket staff. After adding the tickets for those 18 summer games to the 10 spring and fall games we'd purchased back in December, we are set for 1/3 of the 2018 home games.
Winter Weekend: Meeting players, getting autographs and taking photographs
One of the things we were most curious about prior to attending was how much the team, management, and former players would mix about the crowd. Our question was quickly answered.
On Friday night, we spotted countless team members around the hotel and casino. Upon returning to our room that evening, we found an autographed photo of Red Sox catcher, Christian Vazquez, had been slipped under the door to our room. What a cool surprise!
I went down to get takeout coffee Saturday morning and Dave Dombrowski was in line behind me. We chatted briefly about the Town Hall and, as we waited, if a staffer walked by, he called them over to buy them a coffee or breakfast. He’s a very nice guy.
When we walked off the elevator later to start our Saturday events, Hall of Famer, Dennis Eckersley, was standing in the lobby near the elevator. He signed for those of us in the lobby and graciously took pics as he texted with someone and took a couple of calls about his schedule that day.
As far as the autograph and photo sessions, this was the one area of the event that suffered from the fatigue of hosting nearly 7,000 guests. The autograph and photograph sessions are essentially a lottery - you sign up for a room number and a time and are guaranteed one autograph and one photo during the session - but you have no idea who will be there until you enter the room.
Even though we had a specific time and room assigned with our pre-registration, we first waited in a line of hundreds of people in the hotel hallway, to then advance to one of four different holding areas, to then wait in line for the autograph and photo.
So, who’d we get? My room had Heath Hembree and Deven Marrero signing and Craig Kimbrel taking photos.
Greg’s room had Andrew Benintendi signing...
...and Ben Taylor taking photos.
The entire process took over two hours and, quite honestly, was one of our least favorite parts of the experience. I realize it is the most challenging part of the event to manage with only a limited number of players to sign and 7,000 autograph seekers, but it was a great deal of waiting and chaos for an autograph and a photo.
Winter Weekend: Panel Discussions
The panel discussions were our favorite part of the entire event. The first session we attended was the one we’d pre-registered for: “On the Mound” hosted by NESN’s Dave O'Brien with Craig Kimbrel, Drew Pomeranz, Rick Porcello, and Chris Sale.
It was really, really good. When you see the players at the park, they have their game faces on and are understandably distant. Having been on the media side of pro cycling, we’ve shot enough press conferences to understand why athletes have to be a bit wary of the press and again, typically remain a bit distant. Which is why the panel discussions were so entertaining, providing a glimpse into the human side of the players. The players were open, taking question after question from the audience, sharing stories and bringing the crowd into their world.
We liked “On the Mound” so much we decided to wait in the standby line for “Teammates for Life” and were lucky enough to snag seats for the session. The panel consisted of David Ortiz, Pedro Martinez, Jason Varitek, Tim Wakefield with Tom Caron “moderating,” but with Papi and Pedro in attendance, Caron’s role was more like herding cats. The stories were hilarious and it was the perfect ending to the day and, for us, Winter Weekend.
While we stayed on until Sunday, we skipped the Saturday night movie “Sandlot” and the Sunday morning Wally and Tessie breakfast. Overall, Red Sox Winter Weekend was well worth the money, although next year (yes, we already plan to attend), we will most likely head back to Boston on Saturday evening.
For us, the Town Hall and panel discussions were the highlights, but that was us – with so many varied activities, attendees can arrange their own Winter Weekend schedules to match their personal preferences.
It was also spectacular to see families sitting at tables in restaurants talking to each other about the players they saw and the things they’d done that day, instead of just staring at electronic devices. There’s quite a bit of competition for the minds of that next generation of baseball fans, but it just goes to show you that quality entertainment and engagement, like Winter Weekend provides, can hold the attention of the young (and the old) – and that’s definitely a “W” for the sport of baseball.
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