Major League Ballparks: No. 2 Fenway Park
With Fenway Park celebrating its 100th anniversary and Dodger Stadium its 50th this year, our editor Matt Hurst, who was a baseball beat writer for four seasons in the mid-2000′s, takes a look at the ballparks he’s worked at in his life and ranks them from worst to first. We continue the series with No. 2 – Fenway Park. To see the previously reviewed ballparks, click here.
I’ve never been to a European soccer game, but I’d imagine that a Boston Red Sox game at Fenway Park would be the closest Major League Baseball atmosphere to a Champions League match.
A sea of drunken fanatics who live and die with their team, know enough about the game to have a conversation but not enough to see things from any angle but their own, crammed inside a place where the echoes are constantly stirred.
That was some of the fun of going to Fenway Park.
The pinball machine aspect of the old stadium makes it unlike any other in baseball, its quirks as embraced as a good player by some, hated as much as a goat by others.
I have long been fascinated with Fenway Park. Growing up in Southern California, we have two terrific baseball stadiums, but they are rather routine in their dimensions and layout. Whenever a Red Sox game was on the MLB Game of the Week before nearly every game was on cable in some form, I was fixated on it. When I played video games that began incorporating real stadiums into the games, I always chose my teams to play in Fenway.
“Would someone hit it over the Green Monster? Wow, someone just fouled a ball over the stands and into the streets. Look at the right field line – it’s only 300 feet from home plate; even I could hit one out there!”
Fenway’s names even made it sound better. The Green Monster. Pesky’s Pole. Every other stadium has the left field wall. Or the foul pole.
I had built up Fenway Park so much in my mind, I was like a kid on Christmas when I first visited. And it didn’t disappoint. It only got better once I was inside.
There were no tunnels to the clubhouses, no secret passageways for workers and the media to access various parts of the ballpark. Seen as annoying by some, it added to the charm of the place considering it was built the same year the Titanic sank. Getting to the clubhouse after a game was akin to a salmon swimming up stream. You had to have your elbows out and make a rush to through the exiting fans to get where you needed to go. Sure it was annoying and I doubt I’d want to do it 81 times a year, but a few times a year added to the quirkiness of the old park.
Once inside the clubhouse, you felt cramped. No more than 500 square feet, you had 25 players and a coaching staff trying to squeeze in, then added a bunch of media members – covering the Angels and covering the Red Sox, because of the thirst for all things Sahx in the Boston media – you could barely turn around without hitting somebody. Walking between the clubhouse and the dugout, though, somehow made it better when it should have been worse. You’re in a narrow tunnel with pipes that leaked water, walking on a faux-carpeted piece of plywood and half-holding your breath because of all the mold on the walls. Sounds sick, right? That’s what I initially thought until someone said “Just think, we’re walking in the same tunnel that Babe Ruth used to.”
And that’s part of the legend of the cramped quarters. There were players who were way better than those we were around who had been in those spaces, walked those halls and dealt with the conditions. So how could we complain?
The Green Monster might be the most famed inanimate object in baseball especially now that there are seats on top of it. Watching batting practice a handful of times from up there was an incredible feeling. Behind you is the Mass Turnpike, but you don’t want to look because of baseballs screaming your way. Yet if you get close to the edge, it’s difficult not to get dizzy looking straight down as you’re 40 feet or so above the action. The clangs coming off the metal siding of the wall only adds to the experience.
But, watching batting practice from inside the Monster was even better. Standing next to the manpower who work the hand-operated scoreboard, there are several slits where you can look out and see the game from a two-inch tall, six-inch wide hole. It’s almost as if you’re the doorman at a speakeasy, peeking out to see if anyone has the password. Then, once you’re inside, you do what everyone else who has gotten inside has done – you sign the wall. Your name is near those like Mariano Rivera’s and Rene Russo’s.
Working a game from inside the press box always felt like a playoff game. Each paper sent at least two writers to every game, oftentimes more, and there were always radio and television personalities walking around. Sure, the press box was angled so that if you looked straight out, you’d be looking at the Prudential building beyond the right field wall, so you are constantly craning your neck to look down from above the third base side. However, because of the air around the Red Sox – remember, my years covering baseball were from 2005-2008, so it was during one World Series team, just off of another one and Boston and the Angels were both usually in the postseason – every game was a big-time event. Hence the European soccer feeling.
The press meal room was the best in the American League and was dubbed by our group of traveling writers as “The Carnivale.” A fresh salad bar, made to order pasta and pizza, fresh clam chowder and several dessert options made it a fat-guy heaven, so no wonder so many beat writers liked it. I discovered a treat while I was there, too. Filling a cup halfway with soft-serve vanilla ice cream (like the kind you get at McDonald’s) and then pouring Dunk’n Donuts coffee on top created a sweet coffee drink that wasn’t too Frappuccino, but was mixed with a kind of milk and sugar that made it better than a regular cup.
It’s weird the things we looked forward to – watching a baseball game that could turn on a ball playing oddly off a quirk; walking through a moldy, wet tunnel with the ghosts of baseball past; experiencing a playoff feel in July; anything involving the Green Monster; waiting for a bunch of drunks to karaoke to Sweet Caroline before the bottom of the eighth inning – but the Red Sox did a great job promoting Fenway Park even though it’s older than pretty much anyone on earth. Every game was an experience and that’s why it was such a memorable and terrific place to take in a game.