Welcome to Nirvana: It’s Fenway
It was in 1978 that I started pestering my baseball-oblivious father to take me to a ball game. To shut me up, he said he would take me to a night game in Wrigley Field.I was delirious with joy until my 6-year-old brain figured out that the Friendly Confines had no lights at the time.The lights finally came to Wrigleyville 10 years later, and in 1990 I got my long-anticipated night game with a day game to boot. Wrigley was easily the best ballpark I had ever been to. Of course that’s not saying much, given that my childhood years were spent at Candlestick Park, which former Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog aptly called, “a toilet bowl with the seat left up.”But, Wrigley was unique to a California kid who’d seen all of his baseball games in multi-purpose concrete monstrosities surrounded by vast parking lots. The Cubs’ yard was smack-dab in the middle of the city. There were all the buildings beyond the outfield fence, the ivy, the hand-operated scoreboard, the intimacy and Harry Carey.It was Baseball Nirvana. Wrigley has topped the list of the 12 or so major league stadia I’ve been to with my Giants’ new home, Pac Bell/SBC Park, ranked 1(a).Then came Fenway Park in Boston nearly two weeks ago. With apologies to Yankee Stadium’s majesty, the ivy at Wrigley, splash downs over the right-field wall in San Francisco and all the other new retro parks including Coors Field, Fenway is IT.
Monster seats for $400?From the time you get off the Green Line at Kenmore Station, you are in baseball paradise. The short walk from the station to the yard is lined with Sox fans wearing Pedro, Nomar (or Nomah), Manny, Ortiz or Schilling jerseys. There were even some wearing Bill Mueller’s number, which is downright alarming.Then, there were the scalpers. Don Cameron, the Daily’s sports editor from 1997-2000, his girlfriend, Tanya, and I got the “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity to buy Green Monster seats for $400 each. No thanks, we’ll take our $20 bleacher seats.Were it not for the lights and the world championship and American League title banners along the side of the park, you could mistake Fenway for a turn-of-the-century warehouse. The first thing which grabs you is how small the park is. How they cram 35,000 people into the place each game is one of the architectural wonders of the 20th Century.That effect is magnified once you go inside Fenway. Yes, they’ve spiffed up the press box with the .406 Club – i.e. sky boxes – added roof seats, a deck above the right-field roof and, yes, The Monster seats, but this is really a one-deck park.Don, Tanya and I started our pregame tour where everyone must – The Green Monster. I sat on the wall just along the left-field line with my back to The Monster, touching the foul pole and the wall itself. It sent chills through me.I wasn’t the only one. Though I really would have loved to sit there for, say, about 24 hours, one by one fellow pilgrims sat up against the Monster for their picture.It was like that all over the ball park. If you’re looking for a stock to buy, try Fuji or Kodak. There were literally thousands of us snapping pictures from every angle conceivable at Fenway – by home plate, by the dugouts, in the back row of the grandstand, of the retired numbers and of the famed left-field scoreboard. And, yes, they take pictures of the 1918 world championship banner above the first-base line with a lonely adjacent green space, waiting for the promised day.
It’s just so pure. And, that’s what turns 30-plus year olds into 6-year-old kids again at Fenway.Pesky’s PoleWhen you think Fenway, the first architectural feature that comes to mind is the Green Monster. No. 2 should be Pesky’s Pole. Before Fenway’s right field juts out deeply toward the bullpens, the right-field foul pole can’t be more than 280 feet from home plate.Pesky’s Pole is located in the stands, and the fans take advantage. Not only do they pose in front of it, but they sign it. And so I scrawled my John Hancock on the yellow pole. It’s strange to think that “Chris Freud” was on a foul pole in one of the most famous stadia in the world.All this walking can make one hungry. And, that is why whatever deity you acknowledge created the Fenway Frank. Yes, you can have steak, lobster, pizza or burgers at Fenway, but why? The foot-long Fenway Frank with a beer should be in the Michelin Guide.’It’s Not Easy Being Green’
We lucked out on the ticket front. The Sox have been sold out for the season since tickets went on sale during the winter. But, they do have sections 34 and 35, which are in center field with a direct view of home plate. The catch is that everyone who sits there gets a green shirt, which they are required to wear, to give the hitter a good background.Some of the fans were less than pleased with the rule and choruses of “It’s Not Easy Being Green” started coming from our section. Not only is Fenway itself a marvel, but its fans make the experience. As the game wore on and some in the crowd got a little more lubricated, the chant of “Let’s go Red Sox” turned into “Let’s go Green Shirts,” causing center fielder Johnny Damon to turn around and chuckle.But, nothing got the Green Shirts going more than Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” after seven innings. The entire section was belting out, “Sweet Caroline … DAH … DAH .. DUH. Good times never felt so good.” The “Dah, dah, duh’s” continued well into the eighth.As for the game, Boston’s Tim Wakefield wasn’t fooling anybody early and the Sox trailed the Mariners, 5-0. Manny Ramirez crushed one over the Monster to close it to 5-3 in the fourth, and optimism seemed justified. Boston inched to 5-4. The Red Sox got Mark Belhorn on in the ninth, but David Ortiz popped to center and that was it.But, it wasn’t. We waited for the bleachers to clear, soaking in every last Fenway moment. You don’t get to go to Nirvana everyday.