Afternoon game not exactly the best timing for Sox fans

Red Sox Nation's three-year wait for playoff baseball ended at Fenway Friday with the first pitch at 3:09 p.m., although the afternoon start time made it a little difficult for many diehard fans to watch the game.

Some turned on the TV at work or tracked the game against the Tampa Bay Rays on their computers. Others left work early to get in front of a TV at home or at the pub.

While local pubs would usually be jammed for a Red Sox playoff game, most were nearly empty during the early innings, though crowds grew larger as the game went on.

Mystic resident and Red Sox fan Erin O'Leary said she showed up at Hot Rod Café in New London to watch the game and celebrate her friend's passing the bar exam. She also wound up celebrating a 12-2 Red Sox victory in the opening game of the teams' divisional playoff series.

Raised in Massachusetts, O'Leary said she has always rooted for the Red Sox. She named her dog after Boston great Ted Williams and met former shortstop Nomar Garciaparra with co-worker Jay Berryman. Attorneys for Suisman Shapiro law firm in New London, they had met Garciaparra while providing legal insight to coaches at the World Baseball Coaches Clinic at Mohegan Sun in 2011.

O'Leary said the team has been "re-energized" by new manager John Farrell and several new players.

Although a New York Mets fan, Berryman said Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino and Koji Uehara have really made a difference for the Red Sox.

New London resident Bob Ronfeld was also at Hot Rod to watch the game. "I always like it when they beat the Yankees, and they did this year," he said.

After he and his friend Brian Wong, who works for ESPN in Bristol, finished their wings, Ronfeld said they would go back to his condo, where Ronfeld has a larger television screen.

Hot Rod had about 20 people in the bar at 4 p.m. and at least three televisions showing the game.

The Dutch Tavern in downtown New London is very much a regulars' bar. By 4 on any Friday afternoon, it starts to fill up with familiar faces - some of whom are sports fans and some of whom aren't.

But on this particular Friday afternoon, the street-side end of the bar, under the suspended television set, had attracted folks wanting to see the Sox game.

Bill Hanrahan, who works in media relations at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital, sipped his Brooklyn lager and said he'd gotten off early to see the game.

A longtime Sox enthusiast, Hanrahan said there was no place he'd rather be. "Red Sox playoff baseball at happy hour in the Dutch on a beautiful October day? Where else would you go?"

Hanrahan explained he has a particularly strong vibe about this season's team. "I went to the 15-inning game at Fenway on July 31, another one of their walk-off wins," he said. "It was such a magical game and I'm confident it's going to be a magical season to the end."

James Stephenson, a professor at Mitchell College who'd just conducted a class in politics and government, walked into the bar and ordered a Budweiser. He was wearing a tie featuring architectural designs of old major league ballparks. A notorious Mets fan, he nonetheless made a beeline from campus to the Dutch to see the Sox game.

"I'm not just a Mets fan," he said. "I'm a baseball fan."

Bartender Dave Anderson was asked if any customers had expressed interest in changing the channel to the Pirates-Cardinals game. He grinned. "Oh, are they playing?"

r.koster@theday.com

j.somers@theday.com

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