The other week, my wife took in her first game at Wrigley Field to watch the Cubs play the Cardinals, and she wonderfully described her experience at Major League Baseball’s second oldest ballpark here at the Crawfish Boxes.
Not to be outdone, I traveled to the first oldest ballpark in the majors: Fenway Park.
The Boston Red Sox hosted the Oakland A’s this past Tuesday night. Astros fans will find anything and everything to worry about in 2022, but if there’s anything they are decidedly not worried about, it’s the 2022 A’s. But I’m going to write about this game anyways.
Gotta Respect Him For That
Now in contrast to my wife’s hesitation to wear her Astros hat outside of Houston, I had mine on the second I set foot outside my hotel after checking in. I don’t mean in a defiant way. I didn’t just slap it on and start yelling, “LOOK AT THE ‘H’! ASTROS, MOTHERF&*(ERS!!! SUCK IT!”
It was just sunny, and I needed a hat. And really, do people even care that much?
Apparently, yes. Looking for a place to get some lunch, I came across some sort of outdoor festival at the Lawn on D. A dinosaur themed park festival for kids, yes, but they were selling food, including Italian sausage. So I went in and ordered.
“Astros fan, huh?” the cashier in a plastic safari hat says as he side-eyes me, “... I don’t know…”
I’m an adult male by myself at a public playground for kids. But apparently it’s the Astros hat that raises a red flag.
“It was YOUR freaking manager that spearheaded the whole operation!”... is what I wanted to say.
“Ha ha… just the Italian sausage and a Sierra Mist, yeah,” is what I did say. It’s been two and a half years since the Fiers story broke. I’ve had this hat on for all of 15 minutes in Boston. I just want to eat and have a Sierra Mist.
“Although I did see a documentary, I forget the name… it said that not everyone did it. Like.. what’s that shortest guy’s name?”
“Yeah, Altuve. Apparently he didn’t want the signs, he didn’t want to know what was coming. So I gotta respect him for that.”
I don’t know why I thanked him. We all say we don’t care what other people think. But I actually do kind of care what people think of Jose Altuve. And it’s why I wish more people would read Brian’s article on Altuve. Astros fans and the city of Houston all know how rare and genuinely good a person Altuve is, so it hurts to see people direct vitriol towards him.
Well, Safari hat guy is one less of those people. So, yes, thanks. Good meal.
Rooting through Laundry to Root for Laundry
Who should I root for? The A’s are in the Astros’ division, but the Red Sox have now been an Astros postseason opponent in three of the last five Octobers.
It’s easy to just say, “Root against the A’s, they’re the division rival,” but with the team gutted of their Matt/Marcus stars and their perennial Manager of the Year candidate Melvin, are they really rivaling anyone? Is anyone in the AL West really challenging Houston? This was the year the AL West was supposed to be a tighter division race, but the Angels lost 14 games in a row, and what may be sadder than 14 losses in a row is that 14 games still wasn’t enough for any of the other teams in the AL West to pass the Angels for second place.
I decided I wasn’t going to root against the A’s, so much as I was going to cheer on the Sox. For the home crowd experience, but also because a small part of me still has some Sox fandom left from before I moved to Houston in 2005.
This actually wasn’t my first time to Fenway Park. I went to college in western Massachusetts. I didn’t enter college as a Red Sox fan, and I wouldn’t say I left as a diehard, but if you hang around enough Red Sox fans long enough during Pedro Martinez’ prime, well, it starts to take. Enough that I remember watching my TV stunned, when Aaron Boone hit a walkoff homerun to win the 2003 ALCS.
So from that time period, I did have a couple of Red Sox T-shirts I considered wearing. The first is a classic: “Yankees Suck.” Really, that’s a shirt for 29 teams.
The second was a shirt I bought in a Cooperstown store in 2004. A gray shirt that says “Red Sox Nation” on the front, and on the back it reads “Money can buy you 26 rings, but it can’t buy you love.” Which is weird because the Sox have always spent just as much as the Yankees. And it’s not even appropriate anymore, considering since that purchase, the Sox won 4 rings of their own. The shirt made more sense to me when I was in my twenties. It also fit better then.
Also I couldn’t find either of the shirts. For all I know, Goodwill might have gotten them 10 years ago and either I don’t remember or my wife didn’t tell me.
In the end, I just went with my Astros cap and a Baseballism Griffey T-shirt. Good enough for a baseball fan going to watch some baseball.
Problems with Transit Authority
I took the T, Boston’s subway system, to get to the game. It wasn’t particularly convenient; I had to transfer twice, but I wanted the full experience. It didn’t disappoint. A moment after buying my ticket from the machine, the turnstile wouldn’t recognize it.
“That’s been happening,” a young lady behind me said, “It didn’t work for me yesterday either. Here, let’s try this.”
She dangled her backpack on the other side of the turnstile so it would think someone was trying to exit. The turnstile opened.
“Go! Go! Go!” I jumped through.
“Now you let me in,” she said. And I returned the favor.
Having successfully jumped the turnstile, I was now part of Boston’s criminal element. This trip was off to a roaring start.
The Outdoor Concourse
Here’s the thing about Fenway. It’s an old ballpark. It opened in 1912. The concourse is small. There’s not that much space to move around inside the stadium. But Boston’s solution to that is fantastic. The streets around Fenway are all closed off, and you enter through security and get your entry ticket scanned AS you enter surrounding streets.
That essentially makes the neighborhood outdoors of the stadium part of the concourse as well, and it’s a party. Live music, guys on stilts, street food vendors, all past the point of ticket entry but outdoors on a 80 degree, beautiful sunny day.
The team store is across the street within this outdoor concourse. It’s sizeable and efficient. Wide and varied merchandise, lots of registers; there was even a small section where they were selling A’s gear. It was a very small section, but then again, there was a very small turnout of A’s fans. I mean, if they’re not showing up in Oakland, I don’t know why they would in Boston.
The A’s had an attendance of 3,138 for a game against the Twins this year. For perspective, over three times as many people showed up to Sahlen Field to watch the Buffalo Bills play charity softball against themselves.
I saw a total of two A’s fans. That’s the same number of Astros fans I saw. Me and this guy, who I’m going to guess is named Caleb and was born in 1994.
A Cozy Evening, Just the 32,617 of Us
While it may not have been my first time at Fenway, it was my first time at Fenway with good seats.
I was lucky to snag a single seat seven rows up behind the right batter box, for face value. Of course, I did have to pay Stubhub’s insane fees on top of face value, but the seller himself didn’t mark them up. I think this might have been the best seat I’ve ever had at a major league game. Even if you wanted to sit this close at Minute Maid Park, you couldn’t, at least not without paying through the roof for a Diamond Club ticket, where the billionaires, millionaires, ex-Presidents, and Hall of Fame enshrined alumni sit separated from the commonfolk.
Fenway is so old, it predates all those conventions you see in modern parks where it seems like everyone is sectioned off by class and financial level. All seating is continuous with all of the other seating. You can go ANYWHERE you like, and the ushers won’t stop you. I made my way around to the Pesky Pole in right field, to directly behind the dugouts, to the next to the Green Monster, snapping pictures left and right, and at no point did an usher ever try to tell me I was in the wrong place.
Although when I saw this sign, I let myself know I was in the wrong place.
The seats are not big in Fenway. The average 1912 baseball fan was clearly smaller in girth compared to the average baseball fan today. I’m not particularly large myself, but a fair portion of the crowd was. It’s 2022. You are packed in tight amongst the crowd, and even the aisles are barely wide enough for one person as you get closer to the field.
That might seem bothersome, and to a certain degree it is, but it also fosters community and interaction with those around you. When you sing “Take me out with the crowd” in Boston, you are truly with the crowd.
If you want a recap of the game itself, you can check out the one at Over the Monster or at Athletics Nation. Here were a few of my own personal impressions and highlights:
- The Red Sox are in fourth place in their division. That’s still better than second place in either the AL Central or AL West. The East could conceivably send four of its five teams to the postseason this year. Slow out of the gate, Boston seems to have found its groove. The lineup, with Rafael Devers, JD Martinez, Xander Boegaerts, Alex Verdugo and Trevor Story are as good as any, and backed by Nick Pivetta’s pitching of late, they were unstoppable.
- It helped that they were playing the A’s, who are very very much stoppable. Jared Koenig didn’t seem to have command or control. The Sox scored in each of the first four innings, but Mark Kotsay was determined to get 100 pitches and some innings out of him. He still managed to eat up 4 innings.
- I did actively cheer for Tony Kemp. There will always be hugs for Tony in Houston, but he had a rough day of his own. At the plate, he went a respectable 1 for 4, but in the 5th inning, playing second base, he was unable to handle a sharp grounder laced directly at him. It was scored a hit for Rob Refsnyder, but I bet Kemp wanted that one back. The play reminded me of how in 2018, Astros fans were convinced that Tony must secretly be a terrible second baseman (he’s not) because A.J. Hinch never seemed to want to play him there. In fact when Altuve went on the IL, not just Marwin Gonzalez but Yuli Gurriel AND Alex Bregman were given starts at second base before they ever let Tony come near the infield.
- Devers is crushing it this season and has been for awhile. Sox fans know it too. A nearby couple was expecting a son and joked that they were considering naming him Devers. At least I think they were joking.
- You won’t find Fenway Park in the Michelin guide. Maybe there was better food out in the concourse, but I stuck with aisle vendors so I didn’t have to leave my seat. $25 got me a very average hot dog, a Bud Light and a pretzel that was basically salted cardboard.
- I also got a free ice cream bar. Some nearby fans bought some from the ice cream guy only to find that it was hollow at the top! I guess there was a problem in how they were frozen. So free defective ice cream for everyone, and who doesn’t want a dairy product with suspect refrigeration?
The Fenway ushers are incredibly nice. Sometime between the Red Sox 2013 championship and their 2018 one, they became actual employees of the Boston Red Sox and not just of Fenway Park. As a result, they got their own World Series rings. Our area usher was kind enough to let us look at his and even try it on.
I still think that had 2018 ALCS Game 4 had even one of two things go differently: either the Altuve home run not be called fan interference, or if Alex Bregman’s liner to Andrew Benintendi to end the game had traveled 1 foot shorter or further, that would have been enough to let the Astros win back to back World Series. But that’s baseball.
A Ballpark for People Who Like Baseball
The game ended on a double play, a 6-1 win for the Sox, where the A’s never really threatened. Boston fans can sometimes get a bad rap, and maybe it would have been a bit different if the Sox were playing the Astros that night, but everyone I interacted with was friendly, engaging, and hospitable.
Boston is and always has been a town of baseball fans. Even when they were in an 85 year World Series drought. Even when the Celtics or Patriots were winning championships left and right. Even when the Bruins hoisted the Stanley Cup, Boston remained a baseball-first town. They’re just people who like baseball… and drinking.
If you ignore the ticket and concession prices (and I grant that those are very difficult things to ignore), I imagine the experience of watching the Red Sox play a game in Fenway probably wasn’t all that different than it was 100 years ago.
Except maybe we’re a little bigger now. But so’s the game.