ON THE ROAD: FENWAY PARK

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Fenway is billed as “America’s Most Beloved Ballpark” and I guess it’s easy as a NL fan to give it credit where it’s due. I don’t have to fight for tickets to Fenway on a regular basis, I don’t have to sit in its tiny, cramped seats every week, and I don’t have to deal with the drunken gauntlet to get to and from the ballpark.

I’m a big fan of the old ballparks. Fenway has managed to capture the best of both worlds: the old, original ballpark, upgraded within an inch of its life. The seats may be uncomfortable and you may be jockeying around poles to see the game on the field, but there are ample bathrooms, concessions and space to walk around.

The Red Sox got unbelievably creative in ways to expand the ballpark without having to build a new one. Yawkey Way, along the left field line, becomes part of the ballpark on game day. The left field under-bleacher area is the one claustrophobic part of the ballpark; as you walk around toward center field and out towards the bleachers, the space opens up.

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Most of the 38,000+ seats are on the field level; the upper levels are premium and box levels. Yes, you are dealing with old-fashioned sightlines but even in the bleachers, we could actually clearly see what was going on at home plate. Even in the grandstand, we were only 30 rows away from the field.

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Tickets are a problem. You’re probably not going to get anything when they go on sale to the general public, so you’re going to be going to the secondary market. The Red Sox have their own official ticket broker, Ace Tickets, in addition to Stubhub; and then there are all the season ticket holders who go it alone on eBay. We probably spent six weeks watching tickets on eBay, and studying the Fenway seating chart, before we pulled the trigger, buying from a stated season ticket holder with 99% positive feedback. We had come up with a limit of $300 for a pair after watching ticket auctions over the course of a couple of weeks and seeing what the range was of location to price. We paid $260 (including shipping) for a pair of tickets whose face value was $100. Of course, you can pay more.

The biggest thing to watch out for is obstructions – we had a pole blocking our view, but it was only blocking a section of the outfield. The Red Sox wouldn’t consider that to be an obstructed view ticket. If it had blocked home plate, then that would have been marked obstructed view. Those are the kinds of things you need to watch out for.

There are boxes and suites and tables and of course the infamous Green Monster seats; it was TBF’s opinion that the Monster would only be worth if if you were in the front row – but then it would *really* be worth it. The Sox also have standing room tickets, which are unusual in that they are assigned places, and you pay based on how good your location is. The Red Sox website can tell you everything you need to know about these non-standard seat options.

Unless you are in a premium seat location, be prepared: when we went on a tour of Fenway a few years ago, the tour guide cheerfully told us that Fenway has some of the oldest seats in baseball – which are also the most uncomfortable seats in baseball. I’d have to agree. Our seats in the bleachers were even smaller and more uncomfortable than our original seat Grandstand seats – and the bleacher seats have been replaced within the past few years. I could not imagine sitting in those seats every week.

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There were ample bathrooms and concessions available throughout the park. This didn’t always used to be the case, but the new ownership did a lot of things to make the park friendlier to fans. This is astonishing, given that every game sells out and people would be there no matter what. Compared to Wrigley, Fenway is downright expansive. The Red Sox have been incredibly creative in finding ways to expand the ballpark’s footprint without tearing it down. Yawkey Way, right outside the ballpark, becomes effectively part of the park during game day; you go through turnstiles on either end and once you’re inside, you can come and go throughout the game as you please. That’s important because that side of the ballpark didn’t have as much room to expand as the outfield bleacher area – which is huge underneath.

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We were sad that the Red Sox mascot, Wally the Green Monster, only makes an appearance at the beginning of the game, during the starting lineup. If you’re with a child (or someone who acts like a child) and want to meet Wally, for $100 he will come visit you at your seat, and you get a Wally doll and a 8×10 of the visit. There is a special hotline number you can call. (No, we didn’t do it, but we seriously thought about it.)

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The ballpark opens 2 hours before game time, and BP access is unrestricted – except for the Green Monster. You can go right down to the field and behind the dugouts. Be careful, though – you’ll be tempted to go for the premium seats near the on-deck circle, but if you do your view of the field action could be blocked due to visitors who have made charity donations. (This happened to us.) The bullpens are open and in front of the outfield bleachers, and, again, are completely accessible during BP. (During the games, the area in front of the bullpens is ADA seating.)

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I would recommend that you get to the ballpark for the first time three hours ahead of time, to give yourself time to circumnavigate Fenway and see the festivities around it. There are tons of bars and restaurants in the immediate area; the most infamous is the Cask n’ Flagon. I had heard so many stories of its disrepute that I was disappointed that from the outside, it looked like a Bennigan’s. However, we weren’t brave enough to try to get in there after the game without a Sox fan escort.

The Red Sox team store on Yawkey Way should not be missed. You can purchase just about any item you could possibly imagine here. There are team shirts for every player, in just about every color, and in some cases, in multiple languages.

I loved the music at Fenway. The PA system is crystal clear and we could hear perfectly anywhere we went. The best moment for me was during a sudden rain delay, as they were moving fans out of the stands due to lightning, when “Love, Reign O’er Me” by the Who came pounding out of the speakers. The focus is on classics and not on the hits of the day.

There is no Diamondvision or enormous video screen on which between-innings “entertainment” can be forced on the crowd. There is a screen, but it’s so small that it doesn’t overshadow you and you can easily ignore it.

Level of fan knowledge: I know so many smart Red Sox bloggers that we were shocked by the lack of knowledge of the people around us on both days. People had never seen a scorecard before, and didn’t seem to know much about who was actually on the field at the time. This could have been a total fluke, however. However, the fans do mostly restrict their movement to inbetween innings, and are on their feet and cheering whenever appropriate.

Food: The food is standard ballpark food. You do have clam chowder and lobster rolls available. There are also deli sandwiches, and healthy options like fruit cups and vegetable cups. If you want any of those, I would advise you to take advantage of the Fenway Family Hour, which is the first hour after the ballpark opens, when 9 food items, including the fruit and vegetables, are offered at half price. The fruit cup is a portion worth $2.50; it is not worth the $5 you will pay the rest of the time. Vendors in the stands were plentiful and efficient.

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The sign to me that the food operation at Fenway was efficient was during the first night we were there, which was uncharacteristically cold. The day had been so warm that many people were not dressed warmly enough once the sun went down. As a result, the coffee line was ridiculously long. However, it moved quickly, and they did not run out of coffee. Yes, I had to wait half an inning, but I got coffee in a decent sized cup. (If this had been at my home ballpark, I would still be waiting (or would have waited two innings only for the to run out.)

Other notes:

Beer: There is lots of beer to drink. I do not drink at games, so I cannot help you with this.

Tours: It seems that the tours offered on non-game days, or out of season, are more interesting and comprehensive than the ones during the season. We loved the tour we took in the winter a few years back, but heard that the one in the summer was nowhere near as good. In the winter, since the Red Sox are always renovating something, you may not get to see something – in our case, in November, we couldn’t go on top of the Green Monster – but in the summer, we heard that the tour was basically taking people to the luxury boxes and the Green Monster and that was it.

Traveling to the ballpark: The Green line stops at Fenway and Kenmore; Kenmore is closer to the ballpark. Trains run until 12:45 at night. There is parking, but it is expensive ($25 minimum). Be friendly, take public transportation.

If you don’t need to stay in Boston proper, do what we did on the advice of Bostonian friends and stay West of the city in the Newton area. The Green line runs straight to Fenway, there is ample parking at the T station, and we paid $25 for parking and transportation total as opposed to the minimum $25 parking (not to mention the headaches getting into Boston and getting out after the game). Hotels are also much cheaper.

While I enjoyed visiting Fenway very much, and will continue to enjoy it whenever the Mets are there for interleague play, I am glad I am not a fan of an AL team who is there regularly. The uncomfortable seats and the jockeying for tickets on the secondary market would drive me crazy. But the sight of hundreds of flashes going off as Jonathan Papelbon ran on the field and the feeling of a full ballpark completely engaged in the game makes it an absolutely worthwhile experience.

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