Monday, January 21, 2008

Do It The Yawkey Way at Boston's Fenway Park.

What would a visit to Boston be without a trip to the most beloved ballpark in America? Fenway Park is home to the Boston Red Sox, who you can see in action during the regular baseball season. But the ballpark itself is available to tour any time of the year.

I decided to make Fenway Park a must-see on my trip to Boston, and I was not disappointed. It's not far from the MBTA - in fact, there's a Fenway Park stop on the Green Line under Park Avenue. A short walk gets you where you need to be.

I was really surprised at the quaintness of Yawkey Way, which looks more like an alley or a Dickensian street than a thoroughfare to one of the most visited Major League Baseball parks in the nation.

The reigning world champion Red Sox are a hard ticket to come by. Every game in the 38,000+ seat is a sell-out. Those ticket are $195 each. You have to buy two tickets, five years in advance, and they go as soon as they’re made available each spring. That doesn’t mean you can’t find a way to go. Many tour operators and ticket brokers have tickets available for you to purchase.

I checked in at the ticket booth and found you actually have to go to the sports shop across the street to meet your tour guide. That gave me a chance to look up and see the side of this famous spot.

The shop itself is a far more modern affair, packed with all sorts of memorabilia, caps, souvenirs, baseball jerseys, you name it.

We began our tour by walking up the ramps on the side of the park to get to the top.The cold air bit through me as we ascended. Despite my layers, I felt more tongues of chill crawl into the space between my collar and my coat.

Our first stop was the pressbox (thankfully enclosed!) where members of the press watch over and capture the action on the field. From this lofty site, you can look towards downtown Boston over the field below, with the Green Monster (don't pronounce the "r") to the left and the stands below and to the right. There's a hierarcy to who gets to sit where, and seating is assigned. On a non-game day, you can sit where you like.

The walls to the press boxes are lined with all sorts of memorabilia and awards.

A few media outlets have their own press boxes, and there are some private boxes as well.

This particular day, cranes were working to lift items involved in a little light renovation of the park. That's understandable, since this is the oldest ballpark in the entire selection of Major League Baseball parks. It originally opened on April 20th, 1912. Fenway Park has been undergoing renovations to the stands this year. There’s a new restaurant being put into the outfield, an expanded concourse project underway, and a new ladies’ restroom is being added. More important, this year’s additions are increasing the number of available seats.

From the heights of the press boxes we walked back down to the next level, where some of the restaurants and clubs are located.

The EMC club offers the best view for those who can afford the luxury. Here, fine dining and a fantastic bar sprawl along the back edge of the facility while full windows allow patrons to take in the game. There are also seats right beyond those windows.

Patrons get to the club by stairwell or elevator, and just about every surface around has some sort of memorabilia, award or photo tied to it in some fashion.

There's also Royal Rooters and the Benchway Bar for folks who want to eat and drink without the noise and hubbub of the concourse. These places offer seating and tables for dining and relaxing - without having to do a balancing act with your dinner on the way back to your seat. Bonus - they're full of more memorabilia.

Another level on the ramps took us down to the place I really wanted to see - Fenway Park's original wooden seats. They were installed after Tom Yawkey bought the park in the 1930s. And yes they are still there and as tight and crowded as I expected.

Here's where our tour guide Steve Meterparel gave us the opportunity to plant ourselves and listen for a while as he spun out one tale after another. For instance:

He told us all about the Green Monster - and the line that delineates what makes and what doesn't make a home run. Because of the ballpark's unique footprint - it's shorter on the freeway side where the Green Monster stands - every hit that smacks the wall past a certain line is considered a home run. Otherwise, it's "off the wall."

He told us folks believed the wall was 315 feet out from home plate when it was built - but some time back, four MIT students broke in at night and measured it at 310 feet.

The color of the Green Wall is the green Mrs. Yawkey thought the grass was. The Red Sox owns the color. Of course, how could I tell with the snow?

Steve told us about Pesky’s Pole, He shared abut  the fantastic old wooden grandstand seats and the newer red seats that cover most of the park. He insisted Fenway Park is the most difficult of all the parks for MLB pitchers.

He unrolled a tale about who changes out the scores on one of only two manually-operated scoreboards in the Majors, what the Morse code on the Green Monster stands for, and who sat in the Lone Red Seat and got conked on the head by a home run.

Amd he showed us all a 2007 World Championship ring - that he was wearing. Steve is the guy in the know.

By the time the tour was complete, I felt I knew more about Fenway Park than almot anyone else. Now I want to come back in the spring and experience a game here.

For any baseball fan, a pilgrimage to Fenway Park has to be on the schedule. Tours are conducted on the hour every day of the week -- Monday through Saturday starting at 9 a.m. and Sunday starting at noon. The last one leaves at 3 p.m. -- or three hours before a game on game day.

No matter what day you’re in town, tour Fenway Park. Tickets are $12 -- and they’re only sold at the fan shop.

Fenway Park * 4 Yawkey Way * (617) 226-6666 * * Green Line B, C, or D to Kenmore or D to Fenway

UPDATE 9/13/17. I still haven't been back to Boston, though doing these updates has me thinking about it again. Sadly, tour guide Steve Meterparel has passed away.

This story has been updated with photo credits, a few photo edits and... well, frankly, a PUBLISH. This is one of several pieces from 2008 that either were unpublished (I may have been negotiating to sell the story to a magazine or newspaper) or that somehow got unpublished. So there you go.

Click here to read through my Boston City Guide. It is surprisingly still relevant.

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