June 1995 - Fond Farewell, Fenway

Barring cataclysm, like another strike or (ha!) post-season opportunities, the Red Sox have only about 460 games left to play in Fenway Park. Yes, Fenway Faithful, if the Sox brass make good on their threat, The Olde Towne Team will be playing in another facility by the year 2001.

It's not because our beloved 83 year old ballpark is falling down, it's because of (surprise, surprise) money. To remain competitive, the Sox brain trust claim they need more "premium" seating. Never mind that Fenway is home to some of the most premo seats in the Majors, what's wanted is more high-priced luxury box seats for the corporate crowd. I wonder if it ever occurred to them that Fenway might be worth more to the organization than any new park could ever be.

I'm a baseball fan, but I'm also a ballpark aficionado. I've seen games in 32 Major League parks, and can say with only a hint of prejudice that Fenway Park is the ultimate baseball experience. Probably more than half the attraction to Yawkey Way is the yard, not the team. Disciples near and far regard this green cathedral as Mecca. It is a place of pilgrimage. While many are gaga over the new ballparks, especially Camden Yards, their ambiance seems forced and superficial to me. As I said in this space when I reviewed The Ballpark In Arlington (May 1994) "You can't buy nostalgia and you can't steal charm."

Our "Lyric Little Bandbox of a Ballpark" has been unfairly blamed for all sorts of problems. Parking is a nightmare anywhere in Boston, but I've never had trouble finding free and legal parking within a 10-minute walk of the ballpark. If you crave a nice restroom, stop by the Ritz before or after the game -- we're talking about a ballpark, for crying out loud. Honed to an art, I've learned how I can make a pit stop between innings or during a pitching change, and get back to my seat without missing a pitch. What more could a true baseball fan ask from the facilities? The sorry state of Fenway food (still marginal despite mega marketing hype to the contrary) has also been blamed on space problems at the park. More elbow room behind the counters will never compensate for inferior products and lousy service.

Recent modifications to Fenway erode my faith in the front office to get the right look and feel for a new place. The ill-conceived 600 Club (a.k.a. The Sissy Boxes) not only put spectators behind plate glass, severely diminishing the experience, it messed up the Fenway wind patterns in the process. It's been suggested that a new park would have a Green Monster, miserably failing to appreciate that Fenway is special because it is unique. The Wall exists because of the street pattern, and slapping one in a new stadium would not only destroy that uniqueness, it would be phony, trite and disrespectful. Chicago razed "The Base Ball Palace of the World" -- old Comiskey Park -- in favor of a pathetic shadow of its namesake. By stealing the famed exploding scoreboard and picnic area from the old park, fans were expected to feel at home. It didn't work. Two levels of those revenue-generating luxury boxes make the first row of upper deck seats in the new park farther away from the field than the last row in Old Comiskey. Many long-suffering White Sox fans refuse to set foot in the new pretender.

Sure, Fenway Park has its shortcomings: it's the oldest (okay, said to be tied with Tiger Stadium, but where was the first pitch thrown?) and has the smallest seating capacity in the Majors. But I contend those same characteristics help make it such hallowed ground. Fenway Park is part of the fabric, history and tradition of Boston. I can't believe there's not a way to adapt it to meet the team's economic needs while still preserving its charm and glory.

©1995 - 2007 Douglas T. Dinsmoor


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