Boston Stories V: At Fenway

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Daydreaming

It begins as a notion in the afternoon.

I’m deskbound at a call center, listening to irate and distraught insurance policy holders and informing them of their limited rights under the settlement of a class action lawsuit for $11 an hour. I have a 70 page script of legalese before me, and not one page bridges the gap between the answers that exist and the answers they want. I feel like a monster and want to visit every last caller and kick puppies in their presence, for all the good I’m doing them. 200 calls in queue throughout my floor. No let-up.

The Globe sits on my desk. I scan the box scores from last night, the news and notes, the predicted starters for tonight.

Hmm…maybe…

I step out of the air-conditioned nightmare into blissful east coast summer humidity. Gonna be a beautiful night, the kind you want to be outside for.

Maybe….

On the train, I grab a seat on the left so I can get a view of Dorchester Bay and the rainbow mural on the Boston Gas Tank. It’s the largest copyrighted piece of art in the world, and it’s a reproduction from the demolished original tank. Supposedly the artist painted a profile of Ho Chi Minh in one of the rainbow bands, but I can’t see it. Maybe that’s intentional. If I can I’ll grab a seat on the right as we approach Charles St. so I can take in the view of Boston when the train crosses the Longfellow Bridge.

If I’m still on the train, that is…

Yeah, why not? Ballgame tonight.

At Park St. I abandon my commute and switch to the Green Line. The buzz in my stomach grows as I get closer. Five stops away.

Boylston, Arlington, Copley, Hynes Convention Center, Kenmore Square.

The Greatest Walk

The train is packed. Game night crowd. I get off at Kenmore, hit the top of the stairs and step into an electric summer carnival.

The Vet who plays Hendrix tunes (right-handed) is set up, case open for donations. Unlicensed vendors sell woefully cheap t-shirts, caps and pennants, and the Boston Baseball hawkers do a brisk trade. I love their scorecards, so I hand over a buck for a copy. A kid plays drums on an array of plastic buckets and salvaged industrial parts. Rocker kids heading to see the latest and greatest bands at The Rat sneer, and I pass them by and rejoin the game crowd.

The Citgo sign does its synchronized neon dance across Commonwealth Ave. The sign – removed from its regular spot on top of the left field wall on a television screen – takes on an entirely new persona: night watchman for the square, guardian of the gate to the suburbs, all-seeing electric eye of Back Bay. It sits atop the BU Bookstore with no context, a relic from a distant era, now risen from darkness during the 80s energy shortage. It is cheap and vulgar, and beautiful and perfect. It is Fenway, it is Boston.

The game day crowd veers left onto Brookline Ave and approaches the bridge over the commuter rail tracks and the Mass Pike. And suddenly there is Fenway. The lights on the towers slowly turn on and John Fogerty plays on the PA. I look left and see the pike, the Prudential and John Hancock towers and all the lights of downtown dancing in the early twilight. I look ahead and see pre-game revelers streaming out of The Cask and Flagon.

Another bucket drummer is set up on the corner of Brookline and Lansdowne, and the air is heavy with the blissful smell of sausages, peppers and onions. A batting practice ball clears the wall and bounces on Lansdowne, and a group of kids with gloves chases down their treasure. The buzz of excitement in my stomach is out of control.

Home

I get in line at the ticket office on Yawkee Way and scan the huge seating map. Outfield Grandstand seats available. Score! I buy one, head back outside and enter through the turnstile at Gate A.

Into the dark, down the ramps under the grandstands behind the plate. It is cooler and dark in here, with peanut shells crunching under every step. T-shirt stands, beer stands, chowder stands, Fenway Franks and ice cream helmets. I buy two dogs, smear on Gulden’s mustard and head up the ramp.

And there is the field and the wall and everything I’ve dreamed of all winter. The sun catches the edge of the roof above the right field grandstands, casting a glow across Fenway. The organ plays, the whites of the hometown team uniforms pop, the kids go crazy. I take my seat under the roof, scarf my dogs and fill out the lineups on my scorecard.

This is the oldest part of the park, with wooden slat seats that may date to the first game in 1912. The seats face center field, thus I have to crane left to see the mound and plate. They are narrow and hard, and there are poles in my line of vision. Because of the roof I can see nothing above the wall in left. And yet they are among my favorite seats in the house, just because of this coziness and feeling of originality.

A game at Fenway is a collage of a thousand moments that I treasure:

The pause just before the pitch. The pitcher holds the ball, just before the windup. The batter finishes cocking the bat and settles in his stance, ready, waiting. Infielders stop fidgeting and crouch in position like soldiers at attention. It feels like the air has been sucked out of the park. Then the tension is broken with the pitch…

The moment when the BALLS and STRIKES lights on the scoreboard snap off. End of inning, end of rally. Finality. Turn the frame, go get ‘em next time.

The slant of the sun across the field, and the approaching night.

The cry of the vendors and the linguistic joy ride that results from a heavy Massachusetts accent. HEY, HUT DUGHS heeeAAAHHH! FRESH POPPED PUP KAHN HEAH!

The feeling that somebody sat in this very spot and watched Babe Ruth hit. Somebody sat in this very spot and watched Ted Williams and DiMaggio. The connection to that history and the history of Boston just outside the walls.

The final out and the exit from the park to a changed world.

Night has come and I wish I had a coat. And I still have to get home. But I have spent the night at Fenway Park, and for a few hours I have left the day, the call center, the irate and the distraught and the trappings of the real world behind. It begins with a notion in the afternoon and ends with the warm glow that comes from a surprise gift. I go home with the feeling that there is nowhere else in the world I would rather have been, and no greater adventure than the one I had getting there.

Image Sources:

Cook & Son’s Bats Blog

Sitting in the Bleachers

Martha Ackmann

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47 comments
  1. Love this! Great way to start my Friday as snow blankets everything outside. Spring can’t rear her tempestuous head soon enough….

    • I am so with you…

  2. Perfect. Reminds me of a road trip to Boston to see Yankees/Red Sox at Fenway.
    One of the coolest stadiums on earth. i hope they never upgrade it.

    • Management has thankfully embraced the develop-don’t-destroy ethos over the
      last decade. They’ve made major comfort upgrades, but they are
      aesthetically appropriate, so if Ted Williams were to thaw out and return
      today, he’d know where he was.

      Unfortunately this has come at the cost of insane ticket prices. Before I
      moved to Boston I was able to take Trailways and go down for 5-10 games
      every summer. And during the timeframe of this story, those obstructed view
      grandstand seats were still only $10-$12. Now they’re $30, on top of
      driving down, parking…

      It was a nice run.

  3. And get this! Summer of ’96, my bro and a friend and I were able to score front row at the right field foul pole at Yankee Stadium for four days in a row. Same seats, and they were maybe $20 ea? No way, today.

    • Ha – today you’d need a mortgage and a machete to get to those seats.

  4. I imagine approaching those seats today and hearing sirens and a robo-voice over the PA: “Your…portfolio…is…insufficient…for…these…seats! Please…turn…away…in…shame!”

  5. Such descriptive language…I could almost smell the popcorn. Another well done post.

    • Pup Kahn for thah Hobblaahh ova heeeaaahhhh!

  6. Great post! Growing up in New Jersey a Red Sox fan was tough, especially with most of my family a Yankees fan… but went to more Fenway games and skipping the Bronx was always a better option…

    With spring training games beginning tomorrow on TV, this is a great time of year… and living in Florida lets me see some spring training games…

    Awesome!

    Armand Rosamilia

    • Niiiiice! I don’t hate Yankee fans. I don’t understand them, but…

      I lived in Jax when I was 9-13. Never got to spring training, but went to a ton of Jacksonville Suns games. The Yanks came to town in 1983. Got to sit on the field 100 yards behind Nettles at 3rd and see Billy Martin get thrown out. Hell of a night.

  7. You are really bringing the juice this week! First person is your friend, Brian Westbye! JENGA! (Ah, this essay made me ecstatic!)

    • Y’know what makes me ecstatic? The Bluebird Nod of Approval. I feel like a young comic getting the invite over to the couch from Carson.

      • Awwww! You ARE the best. Let’s do this: We will drink a behooverloofah amount of coffee, and we can both be guests on Carson’s couch. We’ll be overanimated and talk way, WAY too fast.

      • What. the Hell. Is a Behooverloofah?!?

      • Um. My lawyer is advising me to not take questions at this time. Good thing I never listen to my lawyer!

        It’s a coined word, combining:

        behoove, President Hoover, and loofah.

        The word replaces any common, household profanity.

        In other terms, it’s &$*&ing nonsense.

      • I will give you full credit next time I use that.
        Thank you, my day is now complete.

      • And now I am happy! I am helping! YAY!

      • And cue goofy laugh…. NOW. (Your comic timing is fab!)

  8. Yeah, ‘scuse us, Johnny: we’re just going to take over for a bit. Ed, grab a Bud and hold tight!

    • Whoops! I meant to post that last one here, not there!

      • Laugh track gasp!

      • *Snickle-snort laugh of goofilicious proportion.*

  9. Nice post Brian. Again, you’ve managed to make something I otherwise don’t care about, interesting. 🙂

    • I try to make a difference. 😉

  10. Thank you, Madam Faux-fanity Queen…

  11. Shahidah said:

    And that is how you end an awesome week, a glimpse into game night in the summer at Fenway. I can’t wait!!!!

    • I’ve had that buzz in my stomach since I started working on this one. Thanks for that!

  12. Bravo on a well written post!

    • Thankyah! Great to have you here, Jody.

  13. morezennow said:

    Man, I hate baseball (gulp, sorry!) but this story had me wanting to yell, “Hey, battah, battah….s-w-i-n-g!” Nice one, as always, Mr. Westbye.

    • INFIDEL!!! 😉

      • morezennow said:

        And I hate hotdogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet…what kind of American am I? I’m going to be deported. Please take me, England, I’m yours!

      • Those are the words of someone who wants to see Gitmo up close…

      • morezennow said:

        Aw, man! I can reform, I can repent! Please, give me another chance…and a baseball mitt?

      • I’ve brought you along on the leg of the journey to redemption. The rest is up to you. 😉

  14. Beautiful pictures with this story. 🙂

    • I feel that buzz in my ‘tum looking at ’em. 😉

  15. Barb said:

    Great post.. I’ve never been to this ball park, so it was like a virtual trip. Now I’m hungry for popcorn.

    • Thanks for coming with me, Barb.

  16. Alex @ Raw Recovery said:

    My ex-boyfriend is a Bostonian. One of the most important things I learned from him was to NEVER insult the Red Sox and even if they are doing poorly you don’t talk about it. Ever. Also I had to pretend to care about baseball. What can I say, I’m a tennis and basketball lover

    • You may still come around here. 😉

      • Alex @ Raw Recovery said:

        Glad to know that Boston hasn’t kicked me out for good 🙂

  17. Never been to Fenway…the thought of sausage, onion/peppers..my bags are soooo packed!! Popcorn, too, don’t forget.
    Excellent Excellent Excellent. Oh…that’s profanity for waaay good!

    • Come on over! You’ll have time while your really old building is shut down, right? We’ll catch a game, gorge and talk like demented sailors!

  18. Reblogged this on brian westbye and commented:

    I’m taking this week off to re-charge. Here’s today’s Memoir re-run.

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