Friday, February 13, 2009

Baseball Place No. 7: The Green Monster

Getting the Green Monster ready before game in 1991.

There are many words you could have used to describe Shea Stadium. “Intimate” was not one of them.

It is, however, the perfect way to describe Fenway Park.

Technically, Josh Pahigian targets only one part of the ballpark, the “Green Monster” as stop No. 7 in his list of “101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out.”

But I don’t see how you could go without the entire Fenway experience. There’s a reason Ray Kinsella was sent to the Boston Red Sox’s home in “Field of Dreams.” It’s darn near perfect.

Boston was a little more than two hours away from our town in Connecticut, a longer drive, but do-able.

Rich overlooks the Fenway field.

Rich is a Boston native, attended hundreds of Fenway games and was happy to show me his stomping grounds during my three years there.

My only ballpark experiences at this point were Shea, the disaster in the Bronx and Busch Stadium in St. Louis. All were large, modern stadia surrounded by parking lots and garages with lights mounted atop multiple decks.

But we were practically on top of Fenway before I even saw it. Rich is a master at finding parking spaces tucked into the surrounding neighborhoods, and I vividly remember walking through the blocks surrounding the parks, past the bars and shops.

The streets were filled with vendors, and the smell of sausages, peppers and onion on huge grills beckoned. Rich pointed out that it is far better to enjoy the smell than to eat one of the sandwiches, especially with a two-hour drive home. He spoke from experience.

And there was a massive old souvenir store on Yawkey Way packed with some items that probably were sitting on those shelves for decades – my favorite kind! I picked up an ancient plastic snow globe that for some reason has a moving see-saw with a batter and pitcher. I treasure it.

We walked around the back to see the other side of the Green Monster, which was neither green nor monstrous from that angle. But we could readily see batting practice home runs flying both into and over the net.

We entered through a rear gate for our seat in the centerfield bleachers, and there was then-rookie Ellis Burks standing on the other side of a chain-link fence in the tunnel, happily talking to fans and signing autographs.

There’s really nothing to prepare for that first glimpse of the Fenway’s field from the inside. But I understood immediately when I read that colorful Athletics pitcher Joaquin Andujar reportedly stepped out of the dugout before his first game there and said, “What is this? Are we playing softball today?”

Rich took me on a tour, first of the seats behind the bullpens, where you can look through the slats into where the players sit. I was less than a foot from Phil Niekro, which I thought was really cool.

Rich pointed out the cool little quirks, such as the Morse code hidden in the lines of the scoreboard, and the spot at the end of the press box where owner Jean Yawkey watched the games.

We sat in a spot called “The Triangle, a small section of the bleachers framed by the mighty monster itself.

We often snagged seats either in that spot or near it, and I was always amazed at the interaction between players and the fans, who were so close to the action. There was heckling, but much of it was good natured and even funny. I remember Brett Butler of the Indians one night cracking up and turning around to smile and wink when he thought one was particularly good.

We were semi-regular Fenway visitors over the next three years, dividing our trips between Shea, Yankee Stadium and Fenway depending on who was in town.

Two visits in particular stand out.

I brought my wife to Boston for Valentine’s Day weekend the first year we were married, and it was brutally cold. Naturally, I had to show her Fenway, even though it was the dead of winter. And like Rich had taught me, I grabbed the first possible space I found.

“Aren’t we far from the stadium?” my wife asked.

“Trust me, we’ll never get one anywhere near the place. I speak from experience.”

Of course, every other time I experienced this was when there was a game, and we turned the corner to see block after block of empty street spaces.

Don't let the smile fool you. This person is in trouble.

I am reminded of this to this day. And I still apologize. It was really cold.

My last visit was memorable for different reasons. Fenway was the last stop on our 1991 ballpark tour with Will and our colleague John.

The game, against the Chicago White Sox, went back and forth, and of course included Frank Thomas, one of our favorite players.

Boston was up 8-7 when future Met Robin Ventura smacked his second homer of the game tie it in the ninth.

The game went to the 14th inning, when Ozzie Guillen opened with a single and was sacrificed to second. Ventura was walked, and Frank loaded the bases with a single. Dan Pasqua singled to bring Guillen and Ventura home. Then Frank, by no means a base-stealer was caught trying to swipe home.

Our man Frank goes up against Dennis Lamp.

Bobby Thigpen then came in and closed down Boston to give the Chisox a hard-earned win.

But we soon learned that Will's Civic (not John's) was broken into, with some thugs stealing one of his cameras and some of the film he had shot at some of our previous ballpark stops. It wasn’t pretty.

So I need to get back there one more time and leave Boston with a happier feeling.


Anonymous said...

I lived two blocks from Fenway while I was in school in Boston; I loved how the stadium was tucked into the city. I Hope they never change it! There are two Hancock towers in Boston, one "newer one" with a glass edifice (ugly) and a glorious older building with a lighted spiral which was either red or blue, depending on the weather, and if you live long enough in the city you learn:
Steady blue, clear view
Flashing blue, clouds due
Steady red, rain ahead
Flashing red, snow instead.
(If it flashes red in the summer that means the Sox game is cancelled). Just a little Boston trivia.


Mets Guy in Michigan said...

Good stuff, Tim!

Anonymous said...

Geez, just like the old ball on top of the Citizen's Bank building in Flint. (Ball is red, warm weather ahead. Ball is blue, cold weather is due.)

Anywho, a couple more notes about the game of games, a correction and a plug:

1.) The 1991 14-inning job was delayed by rain and by Busty Heart running out on the field to kiss a presumably pre-Roid Clemens. (Although given the epic and shocking meltdown in the 1990 playoffs, who knows?)

2.) Frank hit one of the longest home runs I've ever seen in that game in the 7th. A monster shot over the Monster.

3.) The aforementioned Civic was mine, not John's. I still have a copy of the Boston police report I filed.

And now the plug: Check out The Fenway Project. It's a cool book, and you should be able to find it in the odd used bookstore. It is a collection of pieces, written about all kinds of facets surrounding a day at the Fens in 2002, including a game account article by Yours Truly.


Mets Guy in Michigan said...

Dooh! I forgot that it was your red Civic, and John had the silver one!

And that book is recommended reading for all!