Fenway Park: Venerable or Just Old?

It’s a question that has to be posed, isn’t it? Is Fenway Park really worthy of “historic landmark” status or just a really old ballpark? And with the Twins starting their only series in Boston, now is probably the time to pose that question.

I went to a ballgame there a few years ago. I was in downtown Boston on business for a few days and I remember thinking I should make a point to get to a game because they were bound to build a new stadium there before long and I would like to say I’d been to a game at Fenway.

I don’t remember much about the game, but I remember my initial impressions of the ballpark when I walked through the turnstiles and made my way toward a concession stand to get a beer on my way to my seat. I think I could best sum those impressions up with, “What a dump.”

Things can get wet in the concourse (Photo: C. Laubenstein)

I don’t know what I was expecting. I didn’t expect it to impress me the way Camden Yards had done on my first visit there. But I recall thinking that the concourses reminded me a bit of Veterans Stadium in Cedar Rapids… the same Veterans Stadium that had to be torn down and replaced in order to allow the city to keep its low-Class A team in town.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I respect and appreciate the unique history of baseball in our country. So, from that standpoint, I can appreciate Bostonians’ reluctance to let go of this monument to their historic past. But then again, just how many “historic” moments took place at Fenway? It’s not like they racked up a ton of championships there. Generations of Red Sox fans were born, lived, and died without ever seeing a World Series Championship from Fenway’s home team.

Sure, some Hall of Famers called the place home, but that can be said of pretty much every old ballpark that’s been wrecking balled over the past century. It’s not an excuse for making today’s ballplayers and fans play/watch games in an antique. Or is it?

I think the “Green Monster” is just a romanticized quirk that was necessary because they built the ballpark on a plot of land that wasn’t big enough for a ballpark in the first place. It makes the leftfielder position for Boston probably the last remaining defensive position that most AL designated hitters could play, in a pinch. A shortstop with above average range and arm could probably just play deep enough to cover both positions. But if keeping that particular quirky ballpark fixture is so important, I would think a NEW ballpark could be built with a similar LF wall.

Remember to zip up, Manny?

They could even incorporate the manual scoreboard and the doorway that leads behind the wall (you know… the one Manny used to mistake for a bathroom door in the middle of innings) if keeping things like that mean so much to people.

As a matter of fact, this is pretty much what the owners of the Sox proposed to do a dozen or so years ago, but the outcry was so loud that the team sank close to $300 million in to a decade’s worth of “renovations” to the existing park, that supposedly make the park usable for another 40-50 years. Can you say “Money Pit”?

Of course, the Boston faithful are not alone in their irrational love for a ballpark that should have been demolished decades ago. Cub fans have pretty much the same relationship with Wrigley Field (and yes, having been to that ballpark, too, I feel pretty much exactly the same way about it). It probably makes even less sense for Cub fans to be so attached to their ballpark when you consider that they’ve won absolutely nothing at Wrigley Field during the lifetime of any fan still ambulatory enough to attend games there.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some great bars surrounding both Fenway and Wrigley. I’ve had a very good time at some of those bars. But yanno what? If you build a new ballpark, it’s just possible that there will be some good bars near the new place, too (as any Twins fan who’s enjoyed the local pre-and-post-game festivities around Target Field will attest to)!

Anyway… it’s their ballpark and I really don’t care all that much what they do with it. There’s just a part of me that believes that if the good folks in Boston would put their mind to it, they could come up with a new ballpark that would show just how much better they could do with that kind of project than George Steinbrenner’s monument to excess in the Bronx (and people would actually show up to watch games in a new Boston park, I’m sure, unlike what’s going on in NY). The prospect of that, alone, should be enough to make it worthwhile.

What do you think? Have you been to a game at Fenway? Am I being too harsh? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section.

– JC

4 Replies to “Fenway Park: Venerable or Just Old?”

  1. I’ve been to Fenway a few times. I think about it in two different ways: the playing field itself; and everything else. When I walked to my seat the very first time I went there, the playing field felt historic to me, and I was amazed at how small it was (except to center field, of course). That part of it was pretty neat. Definitely different from the “feeling” one got when seeing, say, the inside of the Metrodome.
    Then, there’s everything else: the concourse is small, can be cramped and hot during a rain delay or just a warm day, and the food isn’t very good there. I was also amazed at how small the footprint of the ballpark is. I’m guessing you could walk all the way around the stadium in 15 minutes or so.
    I would like to see Fenway replaced someday with a new, quaint ballpark. You’re right – they have sunk hundreds of millions into it recently, but it doesn’t solve the larger problem that it’s just no longer a good facility for watching a ballgame. If they build it, people will still come . . . .

  2. AW, not only would people still come, but probably MORE people! Fenway seats just about the same 40K that Target Field does (perhaps somewhat due to similar limited “footprint” issues) and the New England market would almost certainly be sufficient to consistently fill 50-60K seats/game. But that does perhaps bring up a point of difference between Fenway and Wrigley. In Chicago, I believe a lot of people do go to Cub games specifically because they’re played at Wrigley Field. Unlike in Boston, I’m not sure the Cubs would draw as many fans to games at a new stadium as they do at Wrigley, once the “newness” factor wore off. Of course, we may soon find out whether the Twins have a similar issue.

  3. I visited Fenway 10-11 years ago, before the renovations. It’s still my favorite ballpark where I’ve ever seen a game. I particularly like that it’s old, small, doesn’t have much of a 2nd deck, and only held about 33K fans when I visited. It has a certain intimacy and charged atmosphere that would be gone if they replaced it with a new mallpark that could hold 50-60K. There’s just something about seeing a game in a park that’s been there for generations, especially when you can tell by both the looks and *smells* of the place. Some of the newer parks are great, sure, but I really like a ballpark to feel lived-in, like a home, and even to be a bit of a dump.

    Milwaukee County also used to be great in that way. That was a fantastic old dump. Tearing it down to build that monstrosity called Miller Park was a mistake, the act of a man who of course has no soul.

  4. I’ve never been to Fenway, but I have been to Wrigley Field. The older, historic stadiums are a draw for me – I’d love to visit Fenway, but don’t feel a burning desire to visit Petco Park. I planned my trip to Chicago specifically to go to a game at Wrigley. While the stadium was literally falling down in some places (the ceiling actually fell on some woman shortly after I was there), I really enjoyed attending a game at it. I’m not much for stadium food and I try not to spend much time on concourses, so I’m all about the field and the experience of watching the game. And I have to say, I enjoyed Wrigley immensely. The stadium was packed and everyone was into the game despite the Cubs being out of any kind of playoff contention. Clearly, something other than the teams on the field brought all those people out to the game. I’d say that just as it was for me, the stadium was the draw. It was a beautiful day for baseball.

    Also, I seem to be one of the few people who doesn’t think that Target Field is the greatest place ever. It’s a hell of a lot better than the Dome, but I guess in my mind it was over-hyped and maybe that led to my disappointment in the stadium.