This Sunday we’ll be at a cathedral called Fenway Park, satisfying a very long dream of mine to take a seat in one of the most fabled shrines in baseball. Kris and I will be joining 37,603 fans who are continuing a record of nearly 700 consecutive sellouts (It was no small thing, I should add, to get those tickets; thank you, Stub Hub).
Not that I’m a Bosox fan; I cast my allegiance to no team, including the locals. It’s more akin to walking into the old Yankee Stadium several years ago, which I’ve described as having an ecclesiastical tone. Fenway, having been built in 1912, is perhaps the oldest major league ballpark in the nation, so that alone gains recognition from diehard baseball fans (I qualify). And, of course, there’s the Green Monster, that 37-foot left field wall just 310 feet from home plate that right-handed hitters drool about when they first encounter it, and has no equal in all of baseball. I’ve always guessed that the people who live along Lansdowne Street back at the beginning of the 20th century refused to move for a baseball stadium and so restricted the depth of left field.
In like manner, the good people of Boston have steadfastly declined to present Fenway to the wrecking ball and fall prey to advocates of a new, high-tech stadium, unlike, for example, Pittsburgh, whose Pirates are now playing in a third ballpark over a similar timeframe.
A number of years ago, a pal — and fellow baseball nut — and I discussed spending a summer going to as many minor league parks as we could manage, reflecting the goal of two colleagues who had done likewise for major league parks. Never did it — yet — but I have moved ahead on a personal collection of venues for the upper teams. Starting as a kid, I’ve been in attendance at Cleveland’s old Memorial Stadium, a behemoth that could hold 100,000 fans, long-gone Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, Shea and the old Yankee Stadium in New York, and Candlestick, of course, along with the home stadia of our locals.
And now, Fenway. Call it a minor compulsion, if not a certain homage. I love the traditions of the game, and the more hallowed halls represent a lot of it. Fenway, like the rest of them, has bowed to electronic scoreboards — without giving up the mechanical version in left field, the one where Manny Ramirez once stuck his head out through a scoring opening — and there are the now-obligatory VIP boxes. Plus, Fenway is selling some of the old seats to ready buyers as part of slight modernization program, but it remains what it has always been, a place where the game, and not the concessions, is what matters.
In contrast to the sad reality that has burdened our Dodgers, now evidenced with a half-empty stadium at home games, it will be a special pleasure to be in the company of fans — that’s short for “fanatics,” as you probably know — who continue to enjoy baseball for its own appeal. Not that the Red Sox have ever been above reproach, of course. There were all those years between World Series victories when “The Curse” reined and poor Billy Buckner made the misplay of the century, but the fans kept on coming — note those phenomenal attendance records — and embraced “their” team. You have to like that. When they talk about the national pastime, I think they still have something like that in mind: where the very game itself, minus a host of gimmicks, is the thing. It sure works for me.