A Shrine to Baseball: Reviewing Boston’s Fenway Park

Calling this a review of a ballpark feels sacrilegious. There are a few places where baseball’s essence becomes tangible, where the history of the game combines with the flavor and verve of modern urban life to create a truly one-of-a-kind experience. Fenway Park is one of those, a shrine to baseball past, present, and future.

Leave it to me to cheer for the visiting team.

Game Recap: Boston Red Sox vs. Detroit Tigers

Chris Sale was originally slated to start the game for Boston, but his start was bumped back to Saturday, leaving Brian Johnson to start on Friday. Nicholas Castellanos got to him early with a solo home run. The Tigers 3-4-5 hitters each added singles to make the score 2-0 after the first. Mikie Mahtook’s solo shot to left center extended Detroit’s lead to 3-0, but in the bottom of the fourth the Red Sox cut into the lead against Jordan Zimmerman, with Mitch Moreland’s solo shot and Jackie Bradley, Jr.’s RBI single.

Then, the bullpen happened. Detroit’s bullpen is the site of a detestable plague, one that seems to infect every pitcher that strides out in relief. On this night, it was Alex Wilson’s turn for an implosion. Moreland’s RBI single brought home Xander Bogaerts to tie the game in the 8th, then Bradley, Jr. added a two-run home run that brought the Fenway Faithful to their feet and gave the home team a 5-3 lead. That brought Craig Kimbrel in to close it out in the 9th, and we all know how that story ended. FINAL LINE: Boston 5—11—0, Detroit 3—11—2.

Fenway Park

IMG_20170609_184148077_HDR
The view from my seat in the grandstands. Yes, the stanchion was a little annoying.

If you get a chance to go to Fenway (and if you call yourself a baseball fan, you really have to see a game there), don’t just visit the ballpark: experience it. Explore the area around the ballpark. See every nook and cranny in Fenway—and believe me, there are a lot of them. And sing “Sweet Caroline” at the top of your lungs in the middle of the eighth inning, just like everyone else drunk and sober alike in the ballpark.

If you’re looking for food before entering Fenway, you’ve got a few good options. The Tasty Burger is a down-and-dirty 1950s-style diner, offering burgers, dogs, and beer at a reasonable price. On this visit, though, I went to the Citizens’ Public House and Oyster Bar. It’s a bit more refined, with a large selection of whiskeys, bourbons, and seafoods. On game day, the place is packed with Red Sox jerseys and ballcaps. If you’re there, get the burger—hands down one of the best I’ve ever had.

IMG_20170609_173725463
Citizens’ Public House and Oyster Bar

Tasty Burger and the Citizens’ Public House are just a 5 minute walk from Fenway, but before you enter the park you need to walk through Yawkey Way:

IMG_20170609_182545093_HDR
My new favorite street in New England: Yawkey Way

It’s the American sports fan’s version of a European art market. They’ve got beer stands, they’ve got food vendors, and they have souvenir shops—including the Red Sox official team store. It reminded me a lot of Eutaw Street by Camden Yards in Baltimore. I absolutely love the concept: block parties on streets next to the baseball park. If every park in America had this, I would be a happy baseball fan indeed.

And, finally, we come to the inside of the park itself:

IMG_20170609_184019200_HDR

The stories of the park are the stuff of legend. The Big Green Monster in left. The Fisk Pole in right. The old-school, manually-changeable scoreboard—one of the only parks that still operates their scoreboard by hand. Fenway stands as an homage to baseball’s past and to generations of players and fans that have walked through the concourses to cheer for the Boston Red Sox.

IMG_20170609_185923051_HDR
The hand-operated scoreboard. I can’t imagine how hot it gets in there during games.

The park is over one hundred years old now, which gives it more than a few quirks. Modern ballparks have main concourses that lead right out into the field; larger ones have an upper-deck concourse as well. Fenway’s design is not so clean and precise. Most of the food and drinks vendors are on the lower level, below the main level of seats. Getting to the nearest bathroom to my seats required walking down an auxiliary staircase and across a balcony. Fenway is as much of a labyrinth as it is a shrine to baseball. In a modern park, the organizational design would be a nuisance; here, though, it feels genuine.

IMG_20170609_183653908
The crowded interior concourses under the grandstands before first pitch.

Fenway looks to the future of baseball viewing as much as it takes from the past. Fans can now sit on top of the Green Monster to watch a game—though getting your hands on one of these tickets requires entering a raffle before the season. Some areas of the park have eschewed small vendors for full-size bars and restaurants, like the Ketel One bar down the third base line.

IMG_20170609_184436720
Yes, they do have Standing Room too!

On the upper levels, Fenway even has their own farm, which supplies a number of the food vendors at the park. Fenway Park has found the perfect marriage of honoring the past while being on the cutting-edge of urban stadium development.

IMG_20170609_184712599_HDR
Fenway Farms, on the cutting edge of urban green-spaces. Not a bad view either…

I firmly believe that one of the best ways to know the character of a city is to know their baseball fans. Boston fans have come under fire this year after Adam Jones was racially taunted at a game in Fenway Park. Other players added their own concerns about racial abuse occurring in the confines. Such behavior is detestable and has no place in a ballpark, in this or any day and age, and I am glad to hear that the Red Sox organization and Major League Baseball are enacting strict punishments against unacceptable fan behavior.

On Friday night, I didn’t witness any untoward fan behavior; on the contrary, I was blown away by the Fenway Faithful. I have never been in a ballpark where the fans were more knowledgeable and engaged. They cheered for every strike thrown by a Boston pitcher. They gave Dustin Pedroia a standing ovation on his return from the DL. The eruption throughout the stadium when Jackie Bradley hit the go-ahead homer in the eighth felt like a playoff baseball atmosphere. I may have been rooting against the Red Sox in this one, but it was hard not to be impressed by the devotion of the fans at Fenway. There are few fan bases more passionate and devoted to their team.

IMG_20170609_185813808_HDR

If Fenway Park isn’t on your baseball bucket list, it needs to be. No stadium I’ve attended marries history, urbanism, and love of the game quite like Fenway Park. It is more than a stadium; it’s a shrine to baseball past, present, and future.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s