Previous game: Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia
Next game: Citi Field in New York
Miles traveled to get here: 328
Miles traveled total: 3,417
Final Score: Game 1: Rays 9, Red Sox 2. Game 2: Red Sox 5, Rays 1
Thank goodness I got to go to a doubleheader today; I was really feeling like 10 games in 10 days wasn’t nearly enough baseball. But now that I get to see ELEVEN games in 10 days, I’m happy as can be.
It was a smooth travel day today: woke up in South Philly after a great night’s sleep at my AirBnB with Sam and Eric. Quick trip to the airport, easy $50-flight to Boston. I wanted to see if I could move up the next day’s bus trip to New York because I was not really finding much in the way of accommodations under a million dollars in Boston. I’m mostly staying in the least-expensive AirBnB’s I can find (generally between $30-50 in every place I’ve booked thus far), but Boston wasn’t offering anything under $100 except for one hostel in the city for $80. Everything else was pretty far out of town, and even then they were at least triple the price of what I paid for rooms in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
So I altered my plan.
Instead of trying to figure out how to get back to the bus station to catch the 5:15 a.m. Greyhound after a quick and ridiculously expensive night’s sleep somewhere in Boston, I decided I’d just try to take the 1:00 a.m. bus and not stay in Boston at all. I wanted to see if I could do that in person at the Greyhound station, because making bus changes on the app makes me a little nervous. Two gentlemen were working the desk when I got there: one of whom was fairly nice to me but clearly impatient with his protege. The other guy was trying frantically to hit the right buttons on his computer to make my bus change work. “You just gotta hit F5,” the first guy said. “Just hit F5. Hit F5. Hit f5. JUST HIT F5!!!” I backed away ever-so-slightly. A bead of sweat ran down the second guy’s forehead. This went on for about 10 minutes, but eventually I was on my way. It cost me 20 bucks to change the ticket, but I still saved the money I would have spent on a room in Boston.
After the entertaining bus station interaction I was pretty hungry, so I stopped a couple of blocks away at South Street Diner. Avoid reading the Yelp reviews. It’s 24-hours and a good greasy spoon joint, although like most everything else in Boston it’s pricier than it should be. I sat at the end of the counter and watched as they cooked my breakfast (two bacon-egg-and-cheese sandwiches with home fries) and listened to every waitress and cook yell at one another about various minor offenses. I like being so close that you can tell the employees are saying things they don’t think any customers can hear; you feel like a restaurant insider.
After breakfast I started to make my way slowly toward Fenway, stopping at nearby Emerson College to grab the best wifi signal I’ve gotten on the trip (it’s where I posted the Pittsburgh blog entry).
I kind of always do the trip-to-the-ballpark part in the same way. Assuming the park is within about three or four miles, I’ll just start walking, knowing that I can eventually get a ride or take a train if time gets short. My preferred mode is always by foot, because of all that you can see along the way, even if my phone tells me it might take an hour or more to get there.
And this walking excursion definitely did not disappoint. Boston’s Pride Parade was happening that Saturday morning and the streets were overflowing with super happy people displaying their pride in various unique and beautiful and often absolutely crazy ways. I was actually headed in the exact opposite direction of the parade route, along with a few other Red Sox fans who were also making their way toward the game; the sidewalks were jam-packed, so for a while I made much better time in the street where the floats and buses and political sign-holders were waiting for the festivities to start.
I remembered a line from an old Mitch Hedberg stand-up routine: “If you’re watchin’ a parade, make sure you stand in one spot, don’t follow it, it never changes. And if the parade is boring, run in the opposite direction, you will fast-forward the parade.” This parade was by no means boring, and it hadn’t quite gotten rolling yet, but it was kind of cool to basically see the entire parade in about 10 minutes as I walked, dodging between drag queens and gay motorcycle gangs.
Eventually I got to Fenway, where I stopped and stared for a bit. Fenway is the only park on this year’s journey that I’ve actually been at before: I took in a game during a spring break trip to Cape Cod maybe 20 years ago and bought a scalped ticket shortly before game time. The Sox played the Blue Jays and the game was eventually called due to rain. In about the fifth inning while it was raining, my friend and I took cover with a few thousand other people under the grandstands, where a spirited “Yankees Suck!” chant broke out. I was impressed, since they weren’t even playing the Yankees.
This time, though, the day was full of bright sunshine and was just about as perfect as can be for a game (or two). I decided to add Boston to the trip at the last minute: originally I was planning on going to Miami from Philly for a quick stop at the Marlins game before flying back to New York. But the problem was that I couldn’t find a flight that made it down to Florida prior to the early-afternoon game starting, so I began looking for other options. I noticed the Red Sox were at home, and were playing a day-night doubleheader against the Rays. What I lost in going to a repeat ballpark I gained by being able to say that I was getting an extra game out of the trip. And, of course, it’s Fenway. Bag-check policy here was super smooth, by the way; I had very little delay bringing my backpack into either of the two games.
I also decided to splurge a little on this stop and bought a standing-room-only ticket for the top of the Green Monster. That experience was worth the price of the whole trip. I headed up the stairs that were marked for Monster ticketholders only, trying not to trip in my excitement. Once I arrived at the top, an usher stamped my hand and I looked around me. An older woman was standing at one of the railing areas, waiting for her husband and daughter to return with drinks. We chatted for a while and she told me how lucky we were that the weather was so beautiful; she had been to a couple of games earlier in the season and was miserable from the rain and frigid air. “I’m not even sure I know how to dress for baseball games any more!” she told me. They had driven in from New Hampshire.
I then found a space further along the wall, next to another fan who was up there for the first time in his life. I had my first experience with someone who clearly wasn’t interested in having a recorded interview, although he didn’t say that specifically. In fact, after we chatted for a bit and I mentioned the blog, he seemed pretty excited to talk on tape. But at the end of the first inning when I was just ready to hit the record button, he wandered off, I was assuming to get a beer or use the restroom. And then he never came back. I was ghosted. And he had the PERFECT Boston accent, too.
The perks of being on top of the Green Monster far outweigh any negatives, but there are two minor drawbacks when it comes to getting a spot in that rarified air: one is that once you find a spot on the railing you don’t really want to move because it’ll be hard to get one back; there are a fair number of people in the back waiting patiently for others who really have to go to the bathroom so that they can slide into their vacated spots. I found an excellent place at the very end of one of the railings that was actually even shaded from the light tower above it, and that was where I stayed until the game became a bit of a blowout and I was able to sneak down into one of the seats. The other kind-of-weird part about BEING on the Monster is that you don’t actually SEE the monster, which seems obvious now, but isn’t something you really think about until you’re up there. The Green Monster is, of course, the most iconic part of Fenway. When you’re on top of it, you don’t have a view of it.
But those, as I mentioned, are little things. I completely loved being able to see from that vantage point. Early in the game Rays’ catcher Travis d’Arnaud crushed a home run over our heads, and we all turned to watch it fly out of the park and eventually bounce once and land on someone’s car hood. It was sweet.
I chatted with several Rays’ fans, believe it or not, during the course of the first game. The first, 42-year-old Jim from Dayton, Ohio, grew up a Reds fan but then lived in Tampa for several years before moving back up to his home state. While he was there he fell in love with the Rays, which is a statement I figure people don’t utter all that often. He was wearing a Rays hat and everything, which I found fairly brave in Fenway but probably nowhere near akin to wearing, say, a Yankees cap.
“I adopted the Rays as my American League team,” Jim said. “I like the Trop; I think it’s got character. Is it Fenway? No. But I absolutely had a good time at games there. It’s fun to be a Rays fan because you never know when they’re gonna have a team like this one.”
Honestly, I felt like I shared a bit of a cosmic link with Jim because he is a big fan of a park that most people don’t like. It’s one of the things I love about the Coliseum, too. This was Jim’s first trip to Fenway and he was, not surprisingly, loving it like I was.
“It’s definitely everything it’s billed to be,” he said. “You can feel the history as you walk around here.”
I also had a blast with a group of Army National soldiers who are from Florida but are currently stationed up in New Hampshire; on their weekend off they had been told that they could travel anywhere within about a hundred miles of the base, a range that included Fenway. “Except they did say if our car broke down and we were 101 miles out, that we should definitely push it a mile before getting it towed,” one guy, James, said. “And also they told us to not get arrested,” his friend Shannon pointed out.
We chatted for a while. James explained that they really were Rays’ fans, but that they were at the game incognito. “We’re used to camouflage anyway, and we figured it might be a good idea to keep a low profile.” They were having an excellent time on the Monster, clearly, sharing beers and peanuts and stories with one another and with me.
The game was a bit of a snoozer, though; the Rays jumped out to a big lead early and mostly coasted the rest of the way. The Sox cut the deficit to 5-2 in the bottom of the eighth, setting up what could have been at least a mildly interesting ninth, but then they gave up another four runs in the bottom of the frame and any last hopes left the building.
I’ve never actually been to both games of a doubleheader, and wondered how the clearing-out process would be handled after the first game. I stalled for as long as I could up on the Monster, knowing that I had about two hours to kill before the start of the twilight game. But eventually security started gently suggesting that everybody needed to get out, so I trudged down the stairs and toward the exit.
I didn’t have a ticket to the second game yet, so I kept checking Stub Hub to see if they were coming down. Standing room tix were running about 20 bucks and eventually I nabbed one in the family-friendly (no beer) grandstand section right next to the Green Monster. I nearly had a free ticket from a guy who wandered out of the box office holding two extras in his hand and shouting out that he had two to give away. I was directly in front of him and said that I’d love one and I could get rid of the other; I even had them in my hand, but then a dad and his kid behind me also mentioned that they were looking for two. The rest of the interaction was pretty predictable: I shouted “THEY’RE MINE AND YOU’LL NEVER TAKE THEM FROM ME!!!” and sprinted off as fast as I could.
Just kidding. I let the dad and kid have them. Stupid conscience.
The grandstand ticket was in a good spot and I was looking forward to being able to actually sit for a while, but those chairs are undoubtedly the least comfortable seats in any park in the country. Maybe the world, I’m not sure. How did people’s butts EVER fit comfortably on those? I have no idea.
The second game was way more action-packed and adrenaline-fueled; an electricity was running through the crowd that was completely absent in the first game. It certainly didn’t hurt that the Sox actually played well in this one, as opposed to the dud of a first game. They got out to an early lead and David Price was mostly unhittable for six innings. The Rays had as little chance of winning this one as the Sox had in game one. Fenway is cool no matter what, but watching the crowd get excited while the team is playing well really, REALLY ramps up the energy level. This was the most ‘into’ a game I’ve seen fans yet on the trip.
Perhaps the coolest interaction I had, and there were many of them in Boston, was with a guy named Bob Kentner, who was at a game at Fenway for the first time since 1967.
“My mom would bring us to the game,” he said. “I was seven years old and I had two younger brothers and she would get standing-room only tickets and bring three little kids to the game.”
Kentner doesn’t recall anything specific about that game in 1967, which makes sense because he was a second-grader who likely didn’t know at the time that he wouldn’t be back for another 52 years. He does remember, thought that “Yastrzemski was my guy.”
I snapped a photo of Bob in front of the Green Monster and told him about the blog; I absolutely loved how you could just SEE the excitement on his face generated by being back in that sacred space.
One of the coolest aspects that I noticed during my trip to Fenway was how people were so passionately into the nuances of baseball itself; every park, including this one, has people who are mostly just there for the social aspect of the event, and that’s fine too. But there seem to be way more fans at Fenway who are legitimate students of the game. In no fewer than three different instances, I saw people explaining aspects of strategy to other people in their party:
- The younger guy sitting next to me was going over the defensive alignment minutiae with his girlfriend, who was at her very first game.
- Sitting behind me was a teenager who was clearly a supreme baseball geek and spent much of the game pointing out shifts and answering questions from his little sister and brother, not to mention his dad, who wasn’t remotely as well-versed in the game as his son.
- And as I was walking out of the ballpark, a husband was chatting with his wife about how people don’t recognize the value of the slow pace of the game. “But you see it now, right? I mean, how cool it is that everything can hinge on just one pitch in the game? How the slow moments all lead toward one gigantic important moment?”
It’s places like Fenway where you can become convinced that baseball’s popularity is as strong as it’s ever been. There’s nothing quite like seeing a ballpark filled with people screaming at an opposing pitcher or chanting ‘Let’s Go Sox!’ as Price tries to wiggle out of a bases-loaded jam in the sixth inning. Yes, it’s also great that they all sing along to ‘Sweet Caroline’ and ‘Dirty Water.’
But the best part is that they don’t just love Fenway and the Sox: it’s that they love the game.