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The Ultimate Baseball Road-Trip: A Fan's Guide to Major League Stadiumsby Josh Pahigian
The Fenway Experience
Simply stated, there is no experience comparable to a day game at Fenway Park. Inside Boston's hardball cathedral, the grass seems greener, the crack of the bat crisper and the excitement in the air more palpable than anywhere else. All of the new ballparks built in recent years have been designed with Fenway's magic in mind, as ballpark architects have made pilgrimages to Boston in much the same way that church builders once flocked to Rome to visit the Sistine Chapel. "Retro" is the name of the game now, and Fenway is the inspiration. Baltimore's Oriole Park at Camden Yards mimics Fenway's quirky field dimensions, cozy confines, and bullpens. Cleveland's Jacobs Field replicates Fenway's famous left field wall with a miniature Green Monster of its own. Texas's Ballpark at Arlington and Florida's Pro Player Stadium mirror Fenway's manually operated scoreboard.
Fenway is a time machine. You leave the 21st Century and enter the 1920's when you walk through the turnstiles and behold the narrow rows of wooden seats, the famous nooks and crannies, the slate scoreboard, trademark deep green motif, and old-time pipe organ. This dead-ball-era cathedral has been home to such greats as Cy Young, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, Carlton Fisk and Roger Clemens. It has placidly admired the play of its stars and endured, generation after generation, while the city and world surrounding it have changed beyond recognition. Once you gaze up at the mighty Green Monster, touch Pesky's Pole in right field, sit for a moment in Ted Williams' red seat in the right field bleachers, you will forever be a convert to the park — if not the team that plays there. You'll feel like baseball was invented specifically for the purpose of being played at Fenway. So turn off your cell phone, buy a cup of suds and a Fenway Frank and squeeze into your seat.
Have a Ball
You'll notice that Fenway Park contains less foul territory than any other big league park. This gives you a better-than-normal chance of snagging an official Bud Selig autographed baseball to take home as a souvenir. So wear a glove if you're on the left field side or in the first few rows of the Bleachers, or if you just like wearing a glove. Hey, Michael Jackson's a baseball fan, right?
Sox center fielders traditionally toss a warm-up ball into Section 34 prior to the top of the ninth inning. You'll see a crowd of souvenir-hungry kids flock to the railing as the center fielder trots out to play catch with the left fielder. Take this as your cue to stake out some territory.
Another great place to get a souvenir is Sections 40 behind the home bullpen. When the Sox are winning and spirits are high, relievers often toss balls into the stands. As always, your best bet is to position yourself near a cute kid or scantily clad lass, then wait for a rebound.
Have a Beach Ball
Whether your trip to Fenway occurs beneath the freezing-drizzle of April, the blistering sun of July or the Harvest Moon of late September, if you're sitting in the Bleachers you will invariably observe a number of colorful flying beach balls. Ambitious fans try to launch these over the gap between the Bleachers and right field Grandstands, but usually the balls just end up on the field, destined to be destroyed by a member of the grounds-crew stationed in the Red Sox bullpen.
In the 1980s Red Sox reliever Bob Stanley made a ritual of theatrically hacking wayward beach balls to death with a rake in the pen. "The Steamer" enjoyed a "love-hate" relationship with Boston fans. We always liked Stanley though. He had a certain quirky, gooney quality about him that we appreciated.
Lady Pink Pants (Super-Fan)
Fenway has a plethora of super-fans to its credit, but the one we like best is a little old lady who sits in the last row of Section 40. You'll recognize her as a super-fan when you see her flaming pants. She's been sitting in Section 40 with her now-antique radio in her lap and a bag of ice on her head (on hot days) since the dead ball era. And she never leaves until the final out is recorded.
If the Olde Towne Team has the lead, chances are that at some point the crowd will begin a chant of "Yankees Suck, Yankees Suck, Yankees Suck..." This will occur even if the Sox are playing, say, Baltimore. This is a relatively new phenomenon. Yes, it is illogical and pathetic, but it is a Fenway reality. This is the product of a deep-seated fixation with New York's baseball prowess.
For those in need of a quick history lesson, here's how it all went down: After winning five World Series in their first 15 years, the Sox have gone more than 80 years without winning another. The downward spiral began when Sox owner Harry Frazee (a New Yorker at heart) sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1919 to finance the Broadway musical "No, No, Nanette." The play bombed and the financially-strapped Frazee was forced to sell or trade away a number of Boston's other stars in the ensuing years. Meanwhile, the Yankees' reign as the game's most illustrious team began with Ruth's arrival. The "Bronx Bombers" have won 26 championships during Boston's drought.
Today, this juvenile, nonsensical, ritualistic chanting is how New Englanders vent their frustration. You have a choice: either frown dourly on the chanters to either side of you, or join them in spite of yourself. We hope you'll do the right thing.
When the Sox win, fans are serenaded by the Standels singing "love that dirty water, Boston you're my home," through the PA system after the game. Great tune. The "Dirty Water" to which the song refers was located in the Charles River, which had a serious pollution problem for years. It's supposedly better now. When Boston loses, run-of-the-mill organ music plays as fans file down the exit ramps. Root for a Red Sox win.
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