It was the middle of the pandemic, the Boston Red Sox stunk, and with major league ballparks empty in 2020, they couldn't even count on the crowd to get them going. During one especially humdrum road game at the Rays' Tropicana Field, coach Jason Varitek suggested they needed to put some fun back into the game.

The words had barely left his lips when Christian Vázquez hit a homer. So backup catcher Kevin Plawecki grabbed a nearby laundry cart, waited for Vázquez to return to the dugout, and told him, "Hey, hop in."

"We hadn't talked about it - nothing," Plawecki said on Wednesday. "He sat right in, and I pushed him. And ever since it's been our thing, I guess."

The 2004 Red Sox were "The Idiots." In '13 they grew bushy beards. And if the 2021 team performs like its predecessors and wins the World Series, the lingering image could be "Tunnel Time" - the home run laundry cart drive through the dugout.

Started on a lark in a last-place season, the Red Sox have continued the celebration this year and ridden it all the way to a spot in the AL Championship Series, which begins Friday night in Houston.

"It looked great in a difficult season for them to be able to find something that's fun, and be able to celebrate something in the game," manager Alex Cora said. "It means a lot for them. For them to have fun with that, that's great."

Sports teams have long found unique ways to celebrate their wins and other milestones, from the now routine post-victory Gatorade bath to jackets or jewelry awarded for big plays.

Even in baseball, where traditionalists sneer at anything that might seem disrespectful or undignified, teams haven't been afraid to show some personality.

The Phillies have a straw Home Run Hat, the Rockies have "homer shades," and the Blue Jays have a blue blazer for members of their "HR Club." The New York Mets ride a stuffed pony through the dugout to celebrate homers; the San Diego Padres pass around a seven-pound bejeweled necklace dubbed the " Swagg Chain."

During their 2019 World Series run, Washington Nationals car buffs Adam Eaton and Howie Kendrick celebrated by pretending to drive in the dugout - stepping on an imaginary clutch, shifting fake gears and making loud revving engine noises with their mouths.

"Everybody's got their own way of having fun. That's what it's all about," Plawecki said in an on-field interview during batting practice at Fenway Park. "It's not an 'In your face' to anybody. It's just a way for us to have fun, keep it light."

Boston's cart is now a new, customized model that may never have been touched by actual laundry; it even had it's own bobble head day (though the Red Sox will tell you that the giveaway honored J.D. Martinez, who was riding in it).

During the playoffs, infielder José Iglesias has taken responsibility for the "carrito," and declared himself the official chauffeur. Acquired too late in the season to be eligible for the playoff roster, Iglesias said he was happy to contribute in the dugout, since he can't on the field.

"It's a good way for him to stay involved with the guys," Plawecki said. "I know it kills him to not actually be out there with us. He's such a help for all of us."

Plawecki said he had no regrets about giving up his cart-driving duties. After all, the way the Red Sox are going, he needs to save his energy: Boston hit two homers in an AL wild-card victory over the rival Yankees and nine more in the four-game Division Series win over Tampa Bay - a franchise postseason record five of them in Game 2 alone.

"They kept me very, very busy," Iglesias said. "And I hope I get busier over the course of the playoffs."

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