Much has been made in recent days of Fenway Park’s 100th birthday. It is inarguably an impressive feat for any venue to be able to survive for a full century without being dramatically altered or simply bulldozed to the ground, but many of the reflection pieces penned this week are a bit heavy-handed with the nostalgia and light on the realism.
Living in New England for nearly twenty years meant plenty of Red Sox games. I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly play out at that legendary stadium sandwiched between Landsdowne St. and Yawkee Way. As far as baseball history goes, it is hallowed ground without equal– due respect given to Wrigley Field, which does come close. And I, like many writers who have offered up their thoughts on the centennial celebration, hope that Fenway is around for years to come. I’d like to take my son someday, so that he can have the experience.
And it is an experience.
Going to Fenway is about more than simply seeing a baseball game. The last few decades have seen parks of all kinds come and go. The cookie-cutter parks of the seventies, with their Astroturf and pre-fab feel, their replacements that brought unique dimensions and fan-oriented layouts back to the sport. The downtown palaces that revitalized urban baseball. Even Yankee Stadium was rebuilt, to some degree in its own former image. Through it all, Fenway has remained largely the same, though the most rigid purists probably balk at the notion of Monster Seats and the expanded right field roofbox.
All that being said, Luke Scott wasn’t entirely wrong.
By now, Fenway should be TDNorth Ballpark or Hancock Field or Prudential Stadium. That it’s not is surprising and refreshing, but the fact that ownership has avoided the corporate name-game doesn’t mean everything is perfect. In fact, what it’s called is fairly irrelevant to the issue of what it’s like to take in a game there.
I’m not sure I’d use the term “dump”, but Fenway is old, outdated, uncomfortable, crowded, cramped, and dilapidated. The seats, in general, are awful. The rows are narrow and tight. In plenty of sections your ticket will treat you to a nice view of a metal support beam. Such seating is called “obstructed view”, a privilege that costs you only slightly less than seating that allows you to actually see the game.
That’s assuming you can even get in. In Boston, Fenway sellouts are as common as dropped Rs. If you’re lucky, there may be some standing room-only tickets available. If you’re really lucky you could find your way into the outfield seats or bleachers. To get behind home plate? Well you’ll probably have to have connections to a local Irish city councilman or something. Or maybe bribe a season ticket holder.
Speaking of which, cost has long been an issue in Boston. Fenway is one of the most expensive parks in baseball, and that honor isn’t a new one. Factor in parking, some sausage and peppers, and the obligatory overpriced beer, and you’re talking a serious outlay of funds. Sure, you could prep yourself at the Cask & Flagon and avoid the $7 Bud Light, but your wallet will still come away feeling abused.
I’ve never had to use the Fenway weight room or endure the ancient clubhouse, but if they’re anything like the other facilities the stadium offers then there’s plenty of room for complaint.
I suppose, in the end, it comes down to what one considers important. If you go to a ball game expecting comfort or an aesthetically enjoyable gameday experience, you’ll probably come away disappointed. With the obvious exception of being to gaze upon history itself, the iconic Green Monster, and an absolutely beautiful diamond while you writhe in your tiny seat.
If, however, you’re interested in the overall setting, the tradition of the sport, or simply being able to say that you’ve been there? Well in that case, head on over.
Come prepared to either be a sardine on the T, shoved around inside an over-capacity train car, or drop obscene amounts of cash on nearby parking. Come prepared to have your knees bruised by the chairback in front of you, even if you’re not particularly tall. Come prepared to spend 27 outs craning your neck around a giant I-beam. Come prepared to suffer a less than pleasant restroom excursion.
Something that’s 100 years old is going to show its age. I promise you.
But a few days later, when your neck is no longer sore and your knees have healed and you’ve washed the beer out of your hair, odds are you’ll look back and wonder how soon you can go back.