I’m down to my final 2 stadiums, and I’ve saved the 2 most storied franchises and the participants in the sport’s biggest rivalry for last.
I’m ‘book-ending’ my visits with the two local New York teams and I’ve made my 2nd and penultimate visits the ‘Grand Dame’ ballparks of major league baseball. Stadium #2 was Wrigley Field last May and today is the iconic and storied Fenway Park in Boston.
Many folks will argue that Boston is best sports city in the country. Boston fans are fiercely loyal and enduring whether their teams are winning or losing. But losing is not something Boston has had do deal much with in recent history. They have the greatest NFL franchise of all time led by the greatest quarterback in league history as well as two of the most successful franchises ever in basketball and hockey. But the city’s love of the Sox is something particularly special. Having to endure a drought of 86 years with no World Championships and having to deal with so many heartbreaking near misses during that drought really shows the mettle of a fan-base. But in 2004, the ‘curse‘ was lifted and since then, the Red Sox have won 3 World Championships and have been perennial contenders. A trip to Boston’s Fenway Park to see the Sox play is a truly special experience, which is why I saved this one to the end of my journey.
Boston is only a 5 hour drive from NJ, but I am a lazy man and opted for the hour and 15 minute flight into Logan airport instead. I checked into my hotel in Back Bay sometime around 8:30 AM on a Saturday and took a walk up Newbury Street into my favorite Boston neighborhood, Beacon Hill.
Whether you’ve never been to Boston or have been here 20 times, it’s always a nice experience to get on the hop on/hop off Trolley tour to get around town. Driving in Boston is for the insane. The streets of Boston were designed and built for horses. There are constant traffic jams and parking is either a fantasy or absurdly expensive.
There are so many amazing parts to this city and there is something for every taste. There is art, culture, shopping, food, recreation and so much history. I tried to get in as much as possible ahead of the game – The Waterfront and Boston Harbor, Cambridge (home to MIT and Harvard) and of course, the North End, Boston’s oldest residential neighborhood and maybe the best “Little Italy” this side of Venice. There are so many good eateries in the North End, but I already filled myself at a pub over by Faneuil Hall called The Black Rose. But, there was room for dessert – and what better place to have it than the legendary Modern Pasty. There are always lines here – but you’ll be glad you waited on it.
Depending on how much time you have and how much you like 18th century American history – it is almost an obligation to walk Boston’s Freedom Trail , a 2.5-mile walking route of historic sites that tells the story of the nation’s founding, on which you’ll get to see dozens of notable historic landmarks including the Bunker Hill Monument, the Paul Revere House and the USS Constitution.
Fenway Park may be the most iconic and loved park in baseball or even sports history.
Fenway was built in 1912 and is still going strong after countless other parks have been built and demolished since. No other sports venue has been immortalized in film, song and literature as much as Fenway has, and it is one of the premier must-see attractions in Boston all year round.
I set out on foot from my hotel past the Back Bay Fens and toward the ballpark around 5:30 on this warm and breezy evening. Along the way, more and more fans joined in the march. By the time I got near the park – there were hundreds of us. As we got closer, you could hear and even feel the excitement. There is a buzz around the ballpark on game day unlike any other I’ve experienced.
If you don’t have the luxury of being able to walk to the park from your hotel and are coming from a bit further away – try and avoid the stress of driving and the insane parking prices by taking the MBTA or the ‘T’. There is a ‘T’ stop nearby at Kenmore Square. This will also give you the option of going out for a few post game beers at the hundred or so nearby establishments.
If you have some time before game time, there are dozens of great watering holes and eateries within a stones’ throw from the park – most bustling with fans well ahead of first pitch including the legendary Cask ‘N Flagon on Lansdowne Street.
Every gate outside of the park is adorned with banners and statues of all the legendary former Sox players including Williams and Yaz. Gate K is a special entrance for families with kids and in front of Gate B is the ‘Teammates’ statue.
The vintage seats of the 1910’s and 20’s in the grandstand were designed for the ‘carriage’ of the average man from 100 years ago – long before the days of television and fast food.
There are plenty of concessions stands but nothing on the inside matches the variety or quality of food that you can get on the street before the game. Fenway is not one of the many ballparks that have been caught up in the ‘food craze’. With all of the new and creative offerings being made in other parks the signature dish here is still ‘Fenway Franks’, which are good and are popular. The later in the season you go, the better they taste since they do not clean the grills all year and you get the delicious ‘grill scum’ flavor that has been building up since opening day. They also are one of the only (if not the only) parks to offer Lobster Rolls. There are some decent beer offerings, most notably Sam Adams.
Fenway has more iconic features in and around the park than any other – The Green Monster, The Pesky Pole, The Big Concourse ,The Jimmy Fund collection boxes, The Citgo Sign, , etc. And it also has some of the more notable traditions – The 10 AM start ‘Patriot’s Day’ game on the morning of the Boston Marathon and of course, the signing of ‘Sweet Caroline’ in the 8th inning along with the special fan’s contribution – “So Good, So Good, So Good” (even though Neil Diamond is a New Yorker) and the signing of ‘Dirty Water’ after every victory.
The Sox were facing the Diamondbacks in an inter-league contest. They fell behind early 3-1 against Archie Bradley but came back and pulled away with 3 in the 5th and 2 more in the 6th highlighted by Sandy Leon and Brock Holt homers. My favorite moment in the game came in the top of the 8th when side-armer Brad Ziegler came in for the Sox to relieve Matt Barnes who had walked the bases loaded putting the tying runs on base. Ziegler proceeded to fire 9 straight strikes to get out of the inning. The energy in the crowd grew with each pitch and they erupted after the final strike. Craig Kimbrel (who I personally witnessed blow two saves in earlier games on my journey) came in the 9th and nailed down the win for Boston.
The overall experience – It’s hard to top the combination of a beautiful day in Boston followed by a night game at Fenway – especially when the Sox win. The park may lack the comforts and amenities of the newer venues and will run you a bit more out of pocket than most other stadiums (it’s the 2nd most expensive behind Yankee Stadium) – but it more than makes up for it in history, character and energy. A casual fan may under-appreciate this place, but any baseball purist will love it.
On the walk back to hotel, I passed no less than 40 to 50 watering holes with each successive one gobbling up part of the crowd that left with me.
Tomorrow AM I am off again to the bus station headed to Cape Cod where a ferry will take me to one of my favorite places – Nantucket Island – where I’ll spend the next couple days before heading back home.
Down to 1 more stadium to go!
Fans – B– Boston fans love thier ‘Sox – As much as any city in baseball loves their team – maybe more so. Although some can be jerks. If the Yanks are in town -don’t wear your pinstripes to the park!
Features – A – Not many frills here,but very strong on nostalgia for the baseball purist. The big Concourse,The Green Monster, the Citgo sign,Sweet Caroline, etc.
Location – A+ – Great neighborhood full of energy and lots of options for hoisting a few pre or post game beers.
Food – C – Basic ballpark fare. ‘Fenway Franks’ were ok but overrated. I was told they had lobster rolls, but I hunted for them and couldn’t find any. Much better food options on Yawkey Way outside the park.
Overall Experience – A – A day out in Boston and a night game at Fenway – A really hard combination to beat. If you only plan on visiting a handful of MLB stadiums in your life – Fenway needs to be at or near the top of your list