Last season, the Boston Red Sox went to great lengths to remind fans that 2012 was the centennial year in the history of Fenway Park. Events were held throughout the year to commemorate the occasion, with none bigger than the April 20 celebration that brought innumerable Sox legends (and even Jose Canseco) back to Fenway.
The 100-year-old yard has been declared “America’s Most Beloved Ballpark,” although it is unclear if that moniker came from outside the organization. Regardless of its origins, though, the title rings true.
When looking at the perfect storm of amenities, history and (until recently) caliber of play on the field, only one conclusion can be reached: Fenway Park is the best stadium in MLB.
First, let’s get the obvious out of the way. Fenway is old—like, super old. Whenever dealing with something so elderly, you’re going to have undesirable traits that simply cannot be avoided. I’m talking about the rickety wooden seats that were built for malnourished folks weathering the Great Depression rather than the plus-sized, 21st century fan, the seats situated directly behind steel beams and the entire sections along the right field line that face the outfield rather than home plate.
However, when considering the innumerable positive qualities of the park, these inconveniences merely add to the charm.
The other side of spending time with something so old is that you are completely immersed in the park’s rich history. Fenway has played host to close to 10,000 baseball games, and in addition, has hosted events ranging from the then-Boston Patriots to Bruce Springsteen concerts. The Sox have played (and won) World Series there.
It has the longest sellout streak in the history of baseball, even before the team’s dubious juking of those stats. It was entered into the National Register of Historic Places in March of this year. The list goes on and on.
There is simply no denying that no current park can match Fenway’s historical significance. Even if you thought one of the older parks like Wrigley Field was equal in that regard, those places have not been modernized to meet at least some of the needs of today’s fan.
Fenway is outstanding in the way it has evolved with the times, particularly under the stewardship of the John Henry-led ownership group. When the new owners realized the ill-fated plans for “New Fenway” weren’t feasible, they immediately set about making the park as comfortable an experience for fans as possible.
In addition to the quite noticeable changes, such as building the Green Monster seats and adding more rows closer to the action, there have been more subtle improvements, like improving the quality of the seats and expanding concourses for added food options. While it will never feel hyper-modern like one of the recently-built parks, Fenway has improved dramatically in that the new additions have been so well integrated into the old structure.
Many things may be new, but they look like they’ve been there for decades.
It also helps Fenway’s mystique when the team on the field wins two World Series in eight years and is a perennial playoff contender (exception being last year). The electricity in that park is matched by a scant few places, and when someone collects a big hit or strikeout for the Sox the entire place practically shakes.
Despite the “Pink Hat Revolution” that has diluted the quality of the crowd to a degree, Sox fans as a whole are knowledgeable and deeply passionate about the team. While this may, at times, work against them, it also engenders a fierce loyalty to those who do great things in a Sox uniform even long after they’ve departed. The best modern examples of this are Nomar Garciaparra’s first at-bat at Fenway after he was traded and Terry Francona’s return for the 100th Anniversary celebration last year.
Fenway Park endures as the greatest park in America because it is the only one that lives at the intersection of history, modern convenience and passionate fans who care about their often-successful team.
While other stadiums may try to replicate the experience, there is really only one Fenway.