- First visit: Sunday April 18th 1999
- Most recent visit: Sunday May 24th 2009
Our first visit to this baseball cathedral came in April 1999. We did not arrive together; my brother came up to Boston with some friends, and I traveled south from Yarmouth ME (just northeast of Portland). For me, the trip took about two and one-half hours, traveling south along Interstate 95. While the drive to Boston was uneventful, the drive through Boston was anything but. Since Fenway Park is nestled within the city, I had to navigate my way through downtown to reach it, which took longer than I expected. Having been to Fenway Park before (in 1996), I knew that there was precious little parking around the stadium, and I was shocked by the price of parking (which was about $30 back then), leaving my car in a gas station parking lot.
As expensive as the parking was for the Fenway, I was just across the street from the oldest MLB park. Not surprisingly, the neighborhood around the ballpark was packed, as vendors sold food, drinks and programs outside the park (often at greatly reduced prices). Fans milled around outside the stadium, as legions of others debarked from the “T” train (shorthand for the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority or MBTA). This would be the last time I would drive to Fenway; taking the T from outside the the city to the park made so much more sense, with the Fenway Station stop a mere 500 feet from the park. If I wasn’t in a baseball mood coming up to Fenway, the sight of the venerable stadium and the buzz of the crowd would have certainly set the mood for me!
Entering the stadium from the home plate entrance, I emerged into the bright milky sunshine of Fenway Park. Much like I had seen on TV for so many years, the view of the stadium was dominated by the Green Monster. Almost a mythical presence, the Monster is one of the most recognizable ballpark features (along with the ivy in Wrigley Field) in baseball. Part of Fenway since it opened in 1912, the Monster has changed its appearance over the years, most notably adding seats at the top for the 2003 season. Beyond the Monster lies the iconic Citgo sign, another instantly recognizable feature to baseball fans. Unbeknownst to me before visiting, the sign is about one-quarter of a mile from Fenway; it looks much closer on TV.
After meeting up with my brother and his friends, we toured the ballpark. While the playing field and walls of Fenway Park are kept in good shape, the same cannot be said of the concourse stretching behind the seating areas from left field through home plate to right field. Actually, I was surprised to see how much this area has aged in comparison to the rest of the ballpark. In any event, we saw the staff at the concession stands standing with their arms crossed, not looking particularly friendly; I later read that this is a normal pose for them when not occupied. As was typical for me, I purchased hot dogs and a Coke before heading to our seats.
On that afternoon, we saw the Red Sox host the Tampa Bay Devils Rays, sitting near the right field foul pole. Though the view from the seats was not exactly fan friendly, I was just glad to be there. Sunshine and relatively light winds allowed temperatures to rise into the lower 60s (17 degrees C), which is pleasantly warm for northern New England in mid April. While the game was mostly unremarkable (as the Rays beat the Sox 5-1), my most vivid memory of the game (outside of finally visiting Fenway) was Jose Canseco’s solo home run in the top of the sixth inning. Fenway Park has short fences in both left and right field (though the Monster takes away some home runs due to its height), but no park (outside of Yellowstone) was going to hold the ball hit by Canseco. That home run was one of the longest home runs I have ever seen personally, easily clearing the top of the Monster, sailing over Lansdowne Street into the parking lot behind it.
For much of the rest of the game, I was marveling at the fact that I WAS AT FENWAY PARK! Along with Wrigley Field in Chicago, this ballpark is steeped in baseball tradition that dated back to World War I. As a kid, I watched the 1975 World Series from Fenway, which was one of the best series ever played. As a young adult, I saw the New York Mets sweep the games played here in the 1986 World Series on TV as well. Many Hall of Famers called Fenway home, and over a 40 year period (from the early 1940s through the early 1980s), only three players manned left field on a regular basis, and each one of these players is in the Hall of Fame. Though some changes had been made to the ballpark since my youth, it was still very much the stadium I remember from TV for all of those years.
Our second trek to Fenway Park together occurred on Sunday, May 24th 2009, as the Red Sox were hosting the New York Mets for the final game of a weekend series. My brother was visiting me in the Maine, and we drove down to Suffolk Downs (a racetrack), located outside of Boston. Parking there, we took the Green Line of the MBTA rail system to Fenway Park. Though the train ride was about 30 minutes, it was still faster (and cheaper) to park and ride than to drive to Fenway Park and attempt to find parking. As was the case a decade ago, the area outside of Fenway Station was buzzing with Sox fans, and that continued through our short walk to the ballpark. With a little more time to explore than our previous sojourn, we wandered through the neighborhood immediately around the park.
Jersey Street was reminiscent of Eutaw Street in Baltimore, with a wide variety of restaurants and food vendors near Fenway, serving practically any type of cuisine you could desire. Like Eutaw Street, we did not partake in the local food, but based on the number of people indulging, it appeared as though you could have a good afternoon simply sampling the food and drink the area has to offer. Instead, we chose to walk around the park. This time, my brother armed with his camera, we lit out, taking picture of the exterior of Fenway Park.
As we past the left field wall, we saw a cab pull up to the curb. As the occupant exited, there was an audible murmur from the people nearest the vehicle. As we got closer, we could see that it was Mets centerfielder, Carlos Beltran. It seemed odd that (a) Beltran would get to the stadium so late (as I was sure the remainder of his teammates were already in the clubhouse), and (b) that the perennial All Star, who was near the end of a seven year, $119 million contract, would opt for a cab, and not a limo. Beltran disappeared quickly, not interacting with any of the cadre of Mets fans who were at Fenway for the weekend series.
After finishing our tour of the exterior of the park, we entered Fenway through the home plate entrance. Because the Red Sox were playing so well, tickets to the park were nearly impossible to obtain outside of third party resellers, and those prices were exorbitant. A coworker offered us his standing room only (SRO) tickets for the game. Since we NEVER choose the SRO option for games, we were not aware of the potential pitfalls of those accommodations. Once you enter the park with SRO tickets, you need to stake your claim at the rail of your choice and hold onto it for the remainder of the game. Had I known what an SRO ticket entailed, I would have paid the bloated prices for seats, even if they were obstructed (as there are still obstructed seats at Fenway, most of which are blocked by support girders in the lower levels).
Though it had been a decade since our last visit, I was just as excited to be there that day, especially because the Mets were in town. We wandered the lower concourse toward right field after visiting the home plate area. It was still fairly early, but we noticed there was a fairly large contingent of Mets fans lining the right field line, which was a bit surprising considering the availability of tickets for the game. Walking to the right field bleachers, we reached the extent to which we could explore in that direction, so we headed toward the left field line and the Green Monster. We weren’t able to visit the seats of the Monster, as they section had a separate entrance from the street below.
Having explored as thoroughly as possible, it was time for us to find a place from which we would view the game on this warm and humid afternoon. Not surprisingly, most of the rails already had a couple of lines of spectators near them, which meant we would have to keeping looking for a spot, finally settling on a mediocre view of the action down the left field line. About 15 minutes before game time, a thunderstorm made its presence known north of the stadium. Though the storm was still a good distance away, it was clear that it was strong, and heading our way. Despite the clear and present danger, the decision was made to start the game, even as the ferocious storm neared.
As the Mets took the field for the bottom of the first inning, the storm struck. Gusty winds, torrential rains, vivid lightning and continuous thunder accompanied the squall, sending the sellout crowd scurrying for cover. While it was clear this storm was going to impact the stadium, the game was started anyway, and I was at a loss to explain why the umpires would allow this to occur. A 45 minute rain delay ensued, as the fans in the tightly packed concourse waited increasingly impatiently for the storm to pass, if for no other reason than being able to get out of the concourse. When play resumed, both starting pitchers came back out, but had the rain delay lasted much longer, that might not have been the case.
In 2009, the New York Mets were on the decline, after having some success earlier in the decade, while the Red Sox were a bit more than a year removed from their latest world championship. That did not bode well for the Mets, but both starting pitchers were ineffective (due to the rain delay?), resulting in a mini slugfest through the first half of the game. After that time, the potent Sox offense feasted in the beleaguered Mets bullpen, and the their chances for victory faded after that point. All the while, we were relegated to viewing action from a couple of rows from the railing, which was a dismal experience. With the Mets losing, and tiring of the poor vantagepoint, we did something we have only done a handful of times in the nearly 40 years of seeing baseball games together; we left before the end of the game.
Disappointed by the bad look at the action, we headed out to catch the “T” back to Suffolk Downs. Though this experience was not as good as the first, it WAS still Fenway Park. With so many features, quirks and landmarks, it would be difficult to cover all of them in this missive. It is one of my favorite parks (even more so than Wrigley Field, its contemporary), even though it IS aging. In need of a facelift at least, perhaps it is time to consider a new home for the Sox, leaving Fenway Park in place as a living museum, a reminder of what baseball once was. This opinion does NOT align with most fans, but I would prefer that the ballpark NOT go through the same changes as Wrigley Field, which could alter Fenway Park so much that the original stadium becomes unrecognizable.