Unless you’re a Yankees fan, there are few summertime pleasures as great as catching a Red Sox game at Fenway Park in Boston. Opened in 1912, 11 years after the team was founded, the “lyric little bandbox of a ballpark,” as the writer John Updike put it, has been as synonymous with New England as dropped Rs and picked-up Dunkin’ orders.
Coincidentally, the same year the first pitch was thrown at Fenway, another northeastern staple, a few hours north in Freeport, Maine, was starting up: L.L.Bean.
Over the next century, the ball club and outerwear company enjoyed plenty of success (save for the Sox dealing with that whole Curse of the Bambino thing that kept them from winning a World Series for 86 years), but their paths didn’t cross until 2012 with the release of a limited-edition version of L.L.Bean’s famous tote bags made from the tarps used on the infield diamond at Fenway Park during rainy weather.
“We were preparing to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the company and looking around at what other things were 100 years old in that same year. One of the things that stood out was Fenway Park,” L.L.Bean senior PR representative Eric Smith tells InsideHook. “We really wanted to celebrate the coincidence of these two significant New England icons turning 100 in the same year and so worked with our friends at the Red Sox to develop this Tarp Tote idea.”
The partnership was such a success and so received so well by fans of both entities that L.L.Bean — which now advertises on the tarp itself — has made a number of other tarp totes over the past seven years, including a bag commemorating Boston’s World Series win in 2018 as well as one in 2013 marking the Red Sox title following the Boston Marathon bombing with a portion of the proceeds going to benefit One Fund Boston. To honor David Ortiz’s retirement, the brand also created a commemorative tote bag celebrating Big Papi’s Red Sox career with 34 percent of the net proceeds going to the the slugger’s Children’s Fund.
Though the two icons didn’t officially partner up until 2012 to commemorate each of their centennials, their shared history actually stretches much farther back than that.
As Smith tells it, the company’s founder, Leon Leonwood Bean, was a season-ticket holder at Fenway Park and would often make the drive down from his home in Maine to take in a Sox game. The company founder had three seats at the park: one for him, one for his wife and one for their coats, belongings or the occasional family member or friend who ventured out to park to support the Sox.
“He had an extra seat, which I think is actually telling, the fact that he was always ready to bring somebody else along,” Smith says.
A rabid baseball fan, Bean, who died in 1967, worked out his own formula which he thought was a simplified version of traditional baseball scorekeeping, going as far as to develop a scoring book that he sold at L.L.Bean.
If Bean and his scorebook weren’t able to make it down to the park to watch in person, he would watch Boston play on television or listen in on the radio.
But due to his role as the company founder and reputation as an outdoorsman, Bean was much more than an average fan and was able to develop relationships, though not close personal ones, with some of the players he rooted for, including Babe Ruth and Ted Williams.
Being outdoorsmen themselves, Ruth and Williams were L.L.Bean customers and would sometimes stop in Freeport to pick up gear for their hunting and fishing trips.
Williams in particular, who started his own line of fishing equipment after he retired from baseball, was such a fan of the brand that he wrote a letter to Bean in 1960 asking if he was interested in selling to him or merging his company with Ted Williams, Inc.
Much to the chagrin of Williams, Bean declined either offer.
“It just goes to show the level of familiarity some of those Red Sox players had with L.L. Bean the man — that they were going back and forth with that correspondence,” Smith says. “It’s also just one of the quirks of L.L.Bean himself, how passionate he was about baseball. I think it goes back to his childhood the same way that his other outdoor passions of hunting and fishing did.”
Thanks to their ongoing partnership with the Red Sox, L.L.Bean is able to continue to honor their founder’s passion for baseball even though he’s no longer around to see it.
In at least one instance, that’s a good thing, because the diehard Sox fan may not have wanted to see what L.L.Bean crafted for longtime New York Yankee Derek Jeter prior to his last stop at Fenway Park before retiring in 2014: A pair of duck boots with the Sox rivals logo on them. The ultimate sign of respect.
“The Red Sox asked us if we would make a pair of game boots for him, which we did,” Smith says. “They were blue and white. They had the Yankees ‘Y’ on them. They had a list of the years Jeter had been in a World Series-winning team and the lining of those boots was actually made with real material from an actual Yankees uniform.”
That was the only pair of Yankees game boots that have ever been made, but Bean has made special Red Sox boots for players on the past two World Series champion teams as well as staff members. Some players liked the custom boots so much that they even wore them during the championship parades in 2013 and ’18.
“A great, fun thing we’ve been able to do through the Red Sox partnership is to help the team celebrate a number of wins,” Smith says. “L.L. would have been very jealous witnessing it I think.”