Missing Good Games at Outmoded Fenway Park

Fenway Park configured for outdoor hockey. Note how the seats face toward the rink and NOT toward home plate.

Now that the Boston Red Sox have rid themselves of the toxins that polluted the team for several years and turned off so many fans that the team’s sellout streak is “officially” over–it actually ended in mid-2012–the Red Sox are in full makeover mode. So why not go the whole way and finally rid themselves of Fenway Park?

I realize some will claim my remark is more heretical than asserting that the pope is a gay Rastafarian, but hear me out. I went to Fenway Park most recently on April 14, where I missed a heck of a good game: Clay Buchholz tossed a near no-hitter against Tampa. Alas, though my attention was rapt, my seats were near the right-field foul post. The “foulest” thing about them is that the Red Sox sold this $52 perch as “field box.” I suppose that’s technically correct as my sight was of–left field! Seriously. Seeing home plate entailed turning either my neck of my entire body 90 degrees to the left. I’ll simply say that those two exercises in yogic contortion were easier three decades ago than they are now.

One hears so much that Fenway Park is a “jewel” and that one can “get so close to the action.” That’s certainly true–for a handful of seats that cost a king’s ransom and in which most visitors to Fenway will never plant their butts unless they know someone in Boston politics, city-based corporations, or organized crime. (But I repeat myself.) Fenway Park’s reputation rests almost entirely on how well roughly 5,000 people get to see a given game, about 18% of the stadium’s capacity. But let me be charitable. Let’s pretend–and it’s a stretch–that a third of the seats are “good.” That means that on a given night just 13,000 people actually witness the game for which they’ve paid a lot of money to see, and 26,000 must crane, strain, and pain themselves for glimpses of it.  Thousands miss just about everything because they are planted behind pillars or beneath the upper deck overhang. In fact, if you’re under the deck, you’ll never see the entire flight of a single fly ball and, from some angles, you’ll even miss groundballs. Given the poor experience offered roughly two-thirds of those attending Fenway, it’s obscene for Boston to occupy its current position as the single-most expensive venue in Major League Baseball. (A recent study estimates it will cost a family of four a penny under $337 to see a game at Fenway Park.)

This is simply inexcusable. Fenway has been cruising for decades on a reputation for being a quaint throwback–like Chicago’s Wrigley Field (which is vastly superior to Fenway in nearly every respect, though it too has “issues”). Let’s be frank: Fenway Park and Wrigley Field were state of the art ballparks for their time, but that time was the 1910s through the 1940s. They were among the first steel, concrete, and brick ballparks and they set the bar for others to follow. (Prior to their ilk, wooden ballparks had a distressing tendency to rot or burn down, the latter the fate of the Huntington Avenue Baseball Grounds, where Boston teams competed before Fenway was built.) Lest we forget, Fenway and Wrigley were also designed to be multipurpose stadiums. Fenway hasn’t hosted regular football games since 1968, or soccer in over 40 years, but it used to, which is why so many seats face the outfield grass rather than home plate. It’s also why Fenway has all those weird angles, which are packaged as “quirky” because it’s such a nicer word than “bizarre.”

Okay, we’ve had the 100th birthday bash and millions of folks have had the “experience” of seeing a Fenway game, but what they’ve seen is a museum, not baseball. I’m sick of hearing Bostonians tell me what a “great” place Fenway is. My reply is to get out more. I’ve not been to every park in the country, but now that the one-size-fits-none ovals (Atlanta, Cincinnati, Montreal, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Washington) have been retired, and the domed nightmares in Minnesota and Houston have closed, the only MLB venue where I’ve seen a game that’s worse than Fenway is Tampa’s pathetic Tropicana Stadium. Certainly Baltimore, Cleveland, Milwaukee, and San Francisco are vastly superior to Fenway Park, but I’d ever rate seeing games in Chicago’s Comiskey Park and Oakland as better. (You’re far from the action but at least you can see it from any angle.) And I might as well commit the ultimate heresy. If the Red Sox decide to replicate the Fenway experience in a state-of-the-art facility that retains vestiges of the past, they could do worse than follow the lead of the Yankees! The new Yankee Stadium is massive, but it really feels like the old park, minus the obstructed views, uncomfortable seats, and wrong-way-facing vantage points.

Thomas Paine once remarked, “T’is time to part.” He meant the connection between Britain and the American colonies, but I think if Tom had been in the stands next to me on April 14, he would have extended the remark to Fenway. In the interim, those who wish to spend a fortune and delude themselves into thinking they are seeing “old-time” baseball are welcome to vie for seats without competition from me. I’ve spent my last dime in Fenway. Enough with Green Monster seats, skyboxes, family picnic areas, and other such faux amenities! I don’t care how many garlands you drape on it, Fenway is a broken-down plow horse that should be put down and sent to the glue factory.

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