Fenway Park: Boston's Beautiful Old Monster

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Fenway Park: Boston's Beautiful Old Monster
(Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

Article originally posted at www.stadiumjourney.com

Fenway Park

Fenway. The name alone is imbued with an incredible mix of history, heartache and, at long last, success.

Built in 1912, it is currently the oldest Major League ballpark in operation, besting Wrigley Field by two years. Despite its age (and in some ways, because of it), it remains one of the best places in the country to watch a game.

The current ownership team of John Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino has made a commitment to continual improvements of the park during every-off season, and their efforts have paid off as Fenway has added both new seats and amenities that enhance the fan experience further each year.

FANFARE Score: 32

Food & Beverage: 3

Fenway offers your standard ballpark fare plus a few local specialties. Inside the park, you’ll find that nothing comes cheap. A Fenway Frank, the old standby, goes for $4.60, while a foot long will run you just a bit more at $5.10.

Italian Sausage can be had for just a bit more than a dog, and you can additionally find pizza, burgers, nachos, popcorn, and peanuts.

If you’re going to the game with children, the Kid’s Value Meal might be your best bet; for $5.10 you’ll get a hot dog, small soda, plus cotton candy.

In terms of local options, there’s nothing like a cup of Legal Seafoods Clam Chowder for those April night games that can see temperatures in the 40s, and you can wash it down with a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee. Fried dough is also available for those looking for a sweet snack.

Outside the stadium, the area along Yawkey Way between Brookline Avenue and Van Ness Streets is closed to traffic beginning two hours before the game, and fans with tickets can choose from a good variety of food stands.

“El Tiante,” named after Sox legend Luis Tiant, offers a tasty Cuban sandwich, and Tiant himself occasionally makes appearances to sign autographs.  

For beer drinkers, you’ll find a decent mix of options, including Miller Lite, Bud, Bud Light, Heineken and Stella Artois. “Premium” beers, which will cost you .50 more than your regular choices, include Harp, Guinness, Smithwick’s Blue Moon, and of course Sam Adams.

Atmosphere: 5

This is where Fenway really shines. Coming up the ramp and seeing the dominating presence of the Green Monster reminds you that you’re in a ballpark like no other. 

The history simply permeates the air in Fenway. From the lone red seat in a sea of green in the bleachers to the retired numbers hanging over right field, you’re constantly reminded that you’re a witness to baseball past and present while in this venue.

(The red seat marks the longest home run ever measured within Fenway Park, hit by Ted Williams and coming in at 502 feet). 

In addition, new Fenway traditions like the singing of “Sweet Caroline” in the middle of the eighth inning serve to create an intimate atmosphere.

(While some purists turn their nose at this anthem, which became a staple in 2002, you’ll find most fans standing and belting it out as if Fenway were their own personal karaoke stage).

Fenway’s capacity, at 36,108, is at the low-end of what most stadiums hold, meaning that no fan ever feels too far away from the action. 

And Fenway continues to utilize the large, hand operated scoreboard that runs along the bottom of the Monster in left-field, famous for, among other things, one Manny Ramirez using the area behind the scoreboard for between- inning pee breaks and cell phone calls. 

And every Red Sox win is capped off with the Standelles’ Boston anthem “Dirty Water” blaring over the PA system.

Neighborhood: 5

The area around Fenway is home to a multitude of bars and restaurants that provide endless entertainment both before and after the game.

Whether you’re looking for a simple beer before entering the gates, a full fledged meal, or music and dancing into the wee hours, you can find it within walking distance from the park. 

Perhaps the most renowned locale in proximity to Fenway is the Cask n’ Flagon, located at the corner of Brookline Avenue and Lansdowne Street. The Cask boasts proudly above the entrance that it was voted the No. 2 baseball bar in America by ESPN.

While there’s nothing particularly remarkable about the Cask once you’re inside, you will find that lines start forming about two hours before the first pitch, so if you plan to go, either get there early or be ready to wait.

You’ll find plenty of flat-screens located throughout the establishment as well as about 12 beers on tap at any given time, including the Sam Adams seasonal variety. The food is decent quality bar fare, with a range of sandwiches and burgers in the $9-$12 range, including the “Papelbomb,” a steak-tip sandwich that will cost you $10.99.

The bar underwent renovations recently and some have complained that the bar has lost its “character,” but what this means is that it is now cleaner and more spacious.

For those looking for post-game entertainment, they’ve opened a nightclub in the back with live music called “Oliver’s.” 

Boston Beer Works, located at 61 Brookline Avenue, across from Yawkey Way, is a haven for the beer drinker looking to escape the typical ballpark swill and try something local.

Beerworks brews more then 50 different varieties, and offers cleverly named beers such as “Back Bay IPA,” “Beantown Nut Brown Ale,” and “Boston Garden Golden.”

I’ve yet to be disappointed by any of their concoctions; the IPA is a personal favorite. Their menu goes beyond traditional bar food, offering such delectables as Fried Pickles for $6.95 (not for you dieters out there) and a Grilled Red Snapper Sandwich.

They’ve also got a great variety of salads, and offer the traditional New England Lobster Roll. Most definitely a great option for pre- or post game snacking. 

The Bleacher Bar, built underneath center field, is another venue worth visiting where you can actually watch the game through a one-way, garage-door sized window in center field.

Seating by the window is limited though, so get there early. Lansdowne Street is home to the newly opened House of Blues as well as Tequila Rain, a dance club that gets hopping after games.

As mentioned above, Yawkey Way is a great spot to visit prior to the game. The Hot Tamale Brass Band has a residency there and plays ballpark favorites, and on a nice day you can enjoy a beer and some food in the open air while mingling with your fellow fans.

Fans: 5

Many longtime season-ticket holders have complained about the “pink-hat” crowd that you see more and more of at Fenway in recent years.

“Pink hat” is specifically a jab at female fans who proudly wear their pink Red Sox caps (caps that you could never find before, say, 2000) to Fenway.

But more generally, it refers to the type of fan who shows up in the third inning and leaves in the seventh, and couldn’t explain the infield fly rule to you.

Despite these grumblings, I maintain that the Fenway faithful are some of the most passionate, committed and knowledgeable fans in the business. 

It goes without saying what Red Sox fans went through from 1918-2004, and yes, the agony and heartache being gone has changed the face of Red Sox nation.

But the fans are as obsessive and zealous as ever, and at times you could be fooled into thinking they’ve forgotten about the two world championships in the past six years.

While Sox fans are demanding and certainly can have a “what have you done for me lately” attitude at times, they stand by their players, as anyone who witnessed the scene at Fenway during David Ortiz’ 2009 struggles can attest to.

Most fans at Fenway understand and respect the team’s history. Visiting fans may be confused when they hear Kevin Youkilis being booed as he comes up to bat (they’re not booing: it’s “Youuuuuuuuk….”)

Access: 4

I have one suggestion about driving to Fenway: don’t do it. Traffic is heavy on game days from all directions, and parking will cost you at least $30.

While you can find metered spots on the outskirts of the Fenway neighborhood if you’re willing to walk a bit, even this is a risky proposition, as often you’ll find the closest metered spot ends up being a 20-30 minute walk.

Fortunately, there are a multitude of public transportation options to get you to the park. The subway (affectionately known as the “T” in Boston), bus and commuter rail will all get you to Fenway’s doorstep for a cheap fare.

On the Green Line, the Kenmore and Fenway stops are equidistant from the park. Visit www.mbta.com for schedules.  If it’s a nice day and you want a Boston experience, take a Pedi-Cab from downtown: http://www.bostonpedicab.com/.

Tip: if you’re traveling on the MBTA and using a “Charlie Card” (your fare card), add your return fare before the game. If you forget, you’ll be stuck in line and battling crowds to recharge your card. Avoid the hassle and do it beforehand. 

Bathrooms at Fenway are passable. They’re generally easy to find no matter where your seats are, and the facilities, while not sparkling, are what they are: they let you do your business and get on with it.

As is the standard at most parks, the ladies rooms will always have a line between innings. If you don’t mind missing a little bit of the action, your best bet is to go while the Sox are at bat.

Return on Investment: 5

As the old adage goes, you pay for what you get. Yes, Fenway is expensive. There is no such thing as a cheap seat, and if there is, a scalper will have bought it and sell it to you for twice its face value.

But here’s the thing: it’s worth it. Experiencing a game at Fenway may not be something you can make a part of your regular budget, but if you make the investment, you won’t be disappointed.

Not only do you get to experience baseball at one of the game’s most storied parks, but more often than not, you’re going to see quality on the field, as the Sox have had a great run of success over the past several years.

Sometimes it’s worth spending an extra buck or two to have that unique experience. The true baseball fan will be quite pleased with the overall bang for the buck at Fenway.

Extra Points: 5

Fenway has a lot of tangibles that make it a great place for baseball. But it’s the intangibles that earn it 5 extra points here.

The simple aura of the place is unmatched. To get the full experience, take a Fenway tour for $12 ($20 on game day, with field and batting practice access) and go to the game afterwards.

Grab some warning track dirt (but don’t let the tour guide see you) as a keepsake.

Final Thoughts:

Fenway is not perfect. There are some obstructed view seats, some funny angles, and the park can show its age in places. But perfection is rarely achieved in baseball.

Fenway comes pretty darn close. If you haven’t been, you’re depriving yourself a classic baseball experience. Get yourself there, and soon.

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