A behind-the-scenes tour reveals the joys and quirks of Fenway Park, baseball's oldest stadium, celebrating its 100th year.
It is the best seat in baseball. In the coolest stadium in the majors. In a baseball-mad city.
But you can't buy a ticket for this seat at the box office. You rarely find it on StubHub. The only way to get a ticket for section M1, row 1, seat 1 at Boston's Fenway Park is to win it in a pre-season lottery. And then it'll still cost you $165.
Don't fret. Because for $16, you can sit in that choice seat atop Fenway's legendary Green Monster left-field wall, at least for a few minutes, on a stadium tour.
What makes that seat -- with far from the best view of the field -- so sought- after? Imagine it's the 1975 World Series. Game 6, 12th inning, a 6-6 tie. Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk is at the plate. He hits a towering drive down the left-field line, he's jumping and waving his arms to keep it in fair territory, the ball is hooking -- it hits the foul pole. Home run! Red Sox win. There will be a Game 7.
That left-field foul pole has been named for Fisk. Sit in M1, row 1, seat 1 and you can peer through the scaffolding of the yellow Fisk pole and see the greenest stadium in baseball. Much of the ballpark -- from the outfield seats to the press box -- is painted a drab shade of Kelly green. It's officially called "Fenway green."
Not only is Fenway the greenest park in baseball, it's also the oldest in the major leagues. No wonder it bills itself as America's most beloved ballpark.
This year, the Red Sox stadium turned 100. PBS did a special, ABKCO Records put out a commemorative album (with vocals by Massachusetts punk band the Dropkick Murphys and such players as David Ortiz), and the Red Sox played a centennial anniversary game wearing 1912 throwback uniforms, against the Yankees (the first game was with the New York Highlanders, predecessors to those damn Yankees).
In the first season at Fenway, the Red Sox won the World Series -- their first of four titles that decade (the last in 1918). However, the Boston club wouldn't win the World Series again until -- yikes! -- 2004, a long drought that adds to the mystique of famous Fenway.
A visit to Fenway starts at Yawkey Way, the street that runs along the third-base line. On a game day, you might as well be at the Minnesota State Fair. The street is packed with people. Italian sausages to the left, Sox souvenirs to the right, Boston accents as thick as clam chowdah all around. Grab a beer and check out the starting lineup -- posted with supersized baseball cards on the street, above the Pro Shop souvenir store. But drive down Yawkey Way on a non-game day, and you could very easily pass by the reddish brick three-story Fenway in this mostly industrial urban neighborhood and not even realize that it's a ballpark.
If you have seats in the outfield, head down Lansdowne Street. You'll see the House of Blues music club and some Boston characters, like one guy with a handmade sign announcing "need $ to get drunk so two women can take me home." If, like that fellow, you don't have a ticket, then duck into Bleacher Bar (82 Lansdowne), where you can peer into a cut-out in the center-field fence -- whether there's a game or not.
That legendary wall
Once inside Fenway, you'll notice its most distinguished features: a wildly asymmetrical outfield, an old-fashioned scoreboard and, of course, the legendary Green Monster, the left-field wall. The wall is the tallest in the majors (37 feet, 2 inches high) -- and the shortest distance from home plate (310 feet).
After a fire in 1934, a new left-field wall was built and, two years later, a 23-foot fence was added atop the wall because batted balls were breaking windows on storefronts on Lansdowne, according to tour guide Caroline Collins.
Because it was covered in advertising, the wall was not painted green until 1947. A fellow at an area paint company blended a special shade dubbed Fenway green, which is still available exclusively from Benjamin Moore.
One of the most compelling features of the Green Monster is its archaic scoreboard, which was installed in 1934. In this era of high-tech, HD scoreboards, this one is still operated manually, with three workers updating balls, strikes and scores from inside the scoreboard. However, the updates for National League games are done only between innings because the operators need to change those from the outside, often standing on a ladder on the field. For those keeping score, there are 127 slots for numbers and names in the big green scoreboard.
The most curious fact about the Fenway scoreboard, however, is the two sets of Morse code symbols painted in two vertical strips. They spell the initials of longtime Red Sox owners Thomas A. Yawkey and Jean R. Yawkey, his wife, who used to like to picnic together in left field on non-game days. The Yawkey family or its trust owned the team from 1933 to 2002.
The new owners began to make immediate changes, most notably installing 274 seats atop the Green Monster in 2003. (Fenway is now the fourth smallest stadium in baseball, with a capacity of 37,495.) The new regime also established Yawkey Way and started an 8th-inning stretch tradition of playing Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" as a "so good so good so good" sing-along. (It was written for famous Bostonian Caroline Kennedy.)
In the Fenway concourses, you can see a history of the Red Sox, with the various logos used over the years, and a salute to the concerts held there (Bruce Springsteen, Aerosmith and, of course, Diamond). In the press box, which is part of the tour, there is a photo of jubilant fans storming the announcers booth when the Sox beat the Twins to clinch the 1967 American League pennant.
Throughout the ballpark, you will notice tributes to great Sox players, including Hall of Famers Fisk, Carl Yastrzemski and Ted Williams, who has his own red-painted seat amid a sea of green in right field to commemorate his mammoth 502-foot homerun in 1946. You can buy a ticket for that chair -- section 42, row 37, seat 21 -- for a mere $28.
The oldest seats in Fenway are the $55 oak grandstand seats in the lower deck between first and third bases -- the only wooden seats left in the majors. They may be quaint and historical. But they're not as cool and priceless as the best seats in baseball atop the Green Monster.
Twitter: @jonbream • 612-673-1719