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Fenway — It’s No Walk in the Park, You Know

Oh beautiful, for spacious skies, for amber waves of blog…

My wife and I are going to a baseball game tomorrow. I’ll try not to bore you with the details of who the Red Sox are playing, and the importance of the game, and our left-handed hitters’ batting average in day games at home when the temperature is under eighty degrees. You know, just in case you’re one of those sorry, uninspired sorts of folks who think that baseball games are ‘boring‘ or ‘long‘ or ‘a good nap spoiled‘. What those people are thinking, I’ll never know. Baseball’s got drama, beer, intrigue, peanuts, subtlety, hot dogs, nuance, beer, strategy, suntanning, action, and beer. Did I mention beer? Sure, they’re eight dollar beers, but when else do you drink with thirty thousand of your closest friends and neighbors on a Sunday afternoon? Really, unless you’re getting invited to the Kennedy cookouts at the Vineyard, then never. And I’m not invited. Most decidedly not.

(And even the posh Kennedy events have a downside, of course. Think about it — anything hosted by a family with even one politico in the bunch is going to be a fundraiser. Parties, galas, debutante balls, bar mitzvahs, christenings, pet burials — you name it, you gotta pay to be there. And the Kennedys — well, just about every damned one of them’s in ‘the business’. So, their bashes cost some serious scratch to attend. Which means, of course, that if you want to get your cash-per-drink ratio under eight dollars a beer, then you’ve got to pull out all the stops at these things. You’ve got to booze early, often, and in between.

(Not to mention stuff some shrimp and toast points in your pockets to recoup some of your dough.)

Why do you think Ted Kennedy got to be such a booze hound? It’s not his fault; he was just being polite and trying to keep up with his party guests all those years. Who can really blame him?)

And so, my beering and cheering is done at Fenway Park. For those of you unfamiliar with the structure, it’s a baseball shrine. A Mecca, if you will. Fenway and Wrigley in Chicago are the elder statesmen of baseball parks, and I’ve had the good fortune to attend games at both. Having done so, I can tell you that the stadium in ChiTown is in much better shape, I’m afraid. Oh, Fenway’s fine — it’s not going to crumble any time soon, or start dropping rafters on patrons’ heads; I’m sure it’s in superb structural condition. But, frankly, it’s not the best place in the world in which to watch a game. I’ll give you a few reasons why:

1.) Size / cost

Okay, so that’s two reasons in one, I suppose, but they’re closely related. Fenway Park is built on this tiny little piece of land, roughly the size of a living room. Or a large Toyota, maybe. Even when it was built, it’s dimensions were relatively small, so they compensated by building an enormous hulking wall in left field. The thought was that if they couldn’t put the fence any further back, at least they could make it forty feet tall, so it would still be just as hard to hit a ball over it. It’s sort of the ‘it doesn’t have to be long, as long as it’s plenty thick‘ argument. Um, I mean ‘tall‘. Did I say ‘thick’? Sorry. That’s a completely different argument altogether.

So, anyway, because the stadium’s not very big, and because there are busy streets on each side of it, Fenway has a rather limited capacity, and little hope for expansion. Officially, the park holds 34,218 people, which I’m pretty sure is lowest in the major leagues.

(That’s capacity, boys and girls. The Expos may not actually see 35,000 fans in a year, but if they all showed up on the same day, their park would hold ’em all, and then some.)

Correspondingly, the ticket prices and concession costs at Fenway Park are the highest in all of baseball, and have been for several years. Less asses in the grandstands means more gouging at the hot dog stands, you see. It’s supply and demand, I’m afraid, not to mention a bit of the greed that comes from having a captive audience for your half-cooked tepid weiners. (That’s the hot dogs, folks, not the team. I’m afraid I can’t really speak personally about the weiners on the team, though some of my female friends assure me that several of them are sizzling hot and still smoking. But you’d have to ask them just what the hell that means.)

2.) Sight lines

Or rather, lack thereof. In most modern parks, the upper stadium decks are fastened at the back, and jut out over the lower decks without the aid of any further concrete or steel. Fenway, of course, was built way back before concrete and steel were quite as strong (though several years after my house was built, which often keeps me awake at night). So the upper deck at Fenway is held up by steel beams that sit among the aisles in the lower deck. These supports are great for the folks in the upper tier, because they keep those people from plummeting several dozen feet onto the lower deck and quite possibly falling to their grisly, untimely deaths. So, that’s nice for them. However, for the people in the rear thirty or so rows of the lower deck — in other words, the only affordable seats in the whole building — these beams represent a veritable visual obstacle course that must be run continuously throughout the game. Want to see home plate? Lean to the left. The pitcher’s mound? Lean to the right. How about the Jumbotron scoreboard? Scootch down in your seat, lean forward, and crane your neck sideways. If you’re lucky, you may just be able to glimpse the number of outs in the inning. Or the current batter’s neck, in his mug shot on the screen. And that’s if you’re lucky. If you’re less fortunate, you’ll get nothing more than a stiff neck and nice whiff of the ass of the person sitting in front of you. And is that really worth it for the trouble?

3.) Convenience

Okay, so this is a bit of a sore spot for me. In general, Fenway Park is not convenient to get to. There’s a tiny parking structure under the stadium, and I know exactly zero people who have actually used it. None. Maybe it’s just for the players and wives; I really don’t know. There are a couple of exorbitantly-priced parking lots nearby, where you can park for roughly the same amount you paid for your car three years ago, but those are usually full, as well, and therefore of little use.

If you live close enough to Boston, you can use the subway to get to the stadium. Which sounds like a good idea, of course. Save the environment, convenient and safe, et cetera. And if you’re smart about it, it can be a useful way to get to the game. But if you’re smart about it, you’ll hit the subway station approximately seven hours before the game is actually scheduled to begin. Any later than that, and the three stops on either side of Kenmore Station — where Fenway Park is located — will be packed full of angry, sweaty, drunken, farty people trying to catch the same train to the same place you’re going. And they’ll all — and I do mean all — be quite happy to hop onto the train with you, and ride it the rest of the way like a bunch of coed tools who’ve stuffed themselves into a phone booth.

(Or a Volkswagen Beetle, which for some reason is the moron-stuffing-into car of choice the world over. They should use that in their ad campaigns. ‘If you think breaking your fricking femur and ramming the stick shift up your ass while sixteen of your friends pile on top of you in our car is fun… just wait until your leg heals well enough to drive it!‘ Jackasses.)

Ok, where was I? Oh, convenience. Right.

So, generally, the options for getting to Fenway are not good. Nor are they any better for getting out of Fenway. The subways are just as crowded, not to mention drunker (and therefore fartier), the parking lots are jam-packed, and the surrounding streets are gridlocked. Honestly, I’d say that it’s best to just duck into a nearby bar and wait an hour or two, but then again, you wouldn’t think I’m the only one to have that idea, now would you? No. No, everyone and their flighty old grandmama does the same, so you can’t get a beer within six blocks of the stadium without fighting through a sea of humanity — and grannies — to get your order in. And sitting down to enjoy your hard-won hops? Fuggedaboutit. So, for most people, the ‘Fenway Experience’ has its pitfalls.

Which is why it’s a sore spot for me, personally. See, until we bought our house a few months ago, my wife and I could walk to Fenway Park. That’s right, walk. Hoof it the hell there, and mosey the hell home. It wasn’t down the block, mind you — it was probably close to a mile’s travel. But it was doable, and it beat the hell out of the other options I just laid forth. We went to six or eight games a year, and nearly always did it with our own two feet. Sure, we had to sidestep the pikers and pukers and such within a block or so of the park each way, but walking is the way to go. It was beautiful. And not only that, but our route back home took us past several bars outside the Fenway Zone, so we actually could sit down with a Guinness to celebrate the victory or curse the loss. The places would fill up around us, as the rest of Red Sox Nation poured forth, but we’d already have our spots at the bar, and drinks in our hands, so what did we care? (And does that tell you anything about the subway after a game that we were able to walk eight blocks or so to the bar before the first trainload of people caught up to us? You so don’t want to go there. Trust me.)

So, that’s Fenway for you. This is our first trip back since the move, and I think we’re going to mimic our old system. We’ll drive over to our old neighborhood — though hopefully a bit closer — and walk the rest of the way there. It really is the only way. And I think our seats this time are close to the field, so we won’t have to worry about doing neck aerobics in order to see what the hell’s happening on the field. And hey, come to think of it, the tickets were free, thanks to my friend Mike’s most gracious generosity (thanks, Mike — I owe you a beer!). So other than the eight dollar beers and the twelve-fifty hot dogs, we’re in the clear money-wise, too. It’ll be like a real game, in a real park. Yay!

And that’s as good as it can get with Fenway Park, I’m afraid. Don’t get me wrong; it really is a treasure. There’s history there, and legend, too. Triumph and heartbreak and wondrous feats. I feel really lucky to have watched baseball there. It’s just that… now that I have, I think it might be time for a change. They should keep Fenway, of course — maybe make it a museum, or a theme park of some kind. That sort of thing. But when it comes to actually playing baseball in this overpriced postage stamp of a park? Well, it’s quaint and all, but I’m afraid that I’d really prefer being able to see the field, and put my beer in a cupholder, and sit in a chair that’s actually wider than my ass, if only slightly. Call me crazy, but I think it’s time to drag Boston baseball screaming into the 1980’s, at least, and build a place with some modern amenities. Just make sure that you make time to see Fenway before they mothball it, though — it really is magical the first time around.

Oh, and by the way, as you’re building the new stadium, I have a teeny request. If it’s not too much trouble, could you plop it down somewhere in Watertown, or really close by? You know, somewhere we can walk to. I really miss that. As long as it’s no problem for you, you understand. I’d be ever so grateful. Thanks.

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