First Fenway Experience for a Fan of the Enemy

If you haven’t figured it out by now then this is the first article of mine you are reading — I am a Yankees’ fan. As a bit of a stats geek, I pride myself on my objectivity, but even I have tendency to favor the Universe over the Nation in the more arbitrary debates. Heading to Fenway for the Red Sox’ season opener that pit them against my Yankees, I figured the House That George Built With Derek Jeter As His Foreman would easily outclass the Old Ball Pawk. Short anwser: I was wrong. The long answer proceeds for those that care to continue…

If you who have yet had the fortune to see the Green Monster in person you must understand the ballpark is smacked in the middle of three streets. To those who live in Manhattan, imagine if the Flatiron Building was a baseball stadium then surround it with a neighborhood filled with bars, paraphernalia stores, bars, restaurants, bars, smaller live venues, and more bars — nearly all Red Sox themed. Boston truly is a drinking town with a baseball problem.

Perhaps it was because it was opening night, but Lansdowne Street seemed especially vibrant (in Boston the line between vibrant and drunk is very very fine). The fans lined the narrow street from Green Monster to The Sausage Guy. They were loud and boisterous. Even the Yankee fans — and they were well represented — chanted, rooting on their team. The atmosphere was jubilant and it was clear that Monday would be a personal day for many.

We entered through Gate C in center field, underneath where the black tarp is located during day games to act as a batter’s eye. The concourses, obviously a point of emphasis as they have expanded Fenway’s capacity, were still tight and crowded compared to the cavernous walkways at the New Yankee Stadium. Although the section numbering seemed to lack much rhyme or reason, I was easily able to find my seat. I was thankful to see about seven or eight fellow good guys nearby. Pedro Martinez’s cameo to throw the ceremonial first pitch sparked the “Whose Your Daddy” chants from the bold few as the Red Sox faithful rigorously applauded, seemingly forgetting how he left the team under awkward terms just six years prior.

The game felt like a blur as I was having so much fun going at it with the fans in right. Although not the Bleacher Creatures, the Sox fans in right could hold their own. I learned that Nick Swisher was a bum, Derek Jeter could do something with his mother that he probably has only done with supermodels, and Alex Rodriguez could stick something somewhere that only steroid needles have gone before. After a lively debate as to whether the Pirates’ GM has gotten fair return on the garage sale that has occurred over the past year, I moved to an empty seat next to a friend in a near section. (Shakespearean aside: It is amazing how laissez faire the ushers were about switching seats. Let’s just say there is no need for the StubHub ticket upgrade promotion in Boston.) There, I enjoyed the view from the Pesky Pole for the remainder of the game.

Fenway certainly did live up to its reputation as charming. Without a true third deck, there are probably modern minor league parks that look bigger than it. But that was the park’s true beauty. I was reminded of the seen in Field of Dreams where Shoeless Joe Jackson speaks about playing at night,

Shoeless Joe Jackson: What’s with the lights?
Ray Kinsella: Oh, all the stadiums have them now. Even Wrigley Field.
Shoeless Joe Jackson: Makes it harder to see the ball.
Ray Kinsella: Yeah, well, the owners found that more people can attend night games.
Shoeless Joe Jackson: [Shakes his head] Owners.

New, modern day stadiums with their luxury boxes, HD jumbotrons and unnecessarily loud sound systems have been constructed with the “fan experience” in mind. But if the fan experience is strongly positively correlated to how the stadium interacts with the game at play, then owners might revert their architectural designs back to those built in a time when a home run might actually leave the ballpark.

Although the Yankees lost, my trip to Fenway was still fun. I experienced one of remaining Sports Wonders of the World, nonetheless on opening day while watching the biggest rivalry in baseball. While Fenway may not be the cash cow the New Yankee Stadium is, if customer satisfaction ever becomes the metric upon which stadiums are rated (and so long as player contracts are paid in dollars and not magic beans it won’t be) then the Pawk in Bahstin would lead the way.

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