When I went to Fenway Park Tuesday night, I expected chaos in the form of a sell-out crowd peppered with the obnoxious blowhards slurring insults at the visiting Angels amidst raucous cries of “Go Sawks!!!” Instead, the Boston faithful turned out to be a demure bunch, near capacity but mollified by a sub-.500 nightmare of nixed expectations and team infighting. Ticket prices that reached $50 for obstructed view seats in the right field grandstands also helped weed out patrons lacking verbal filters. The crowd started the wave, kept it for a few rounds, gave Pedroia and Ellsbury the loudest acclaim, and engaged politely with the various tributes to recently departed Sox legend Johnny Pesky. They were dutiful, letting the PA announcer and walk-up music build a deeper sonic impression than any man-made excitement. The Angels took an early lead and held on, only furthering the crowd’s subdued manner.
Tuesday was August 21st, the birthday of my now-De-Pah-Ted* father who’d gone to college in Boston and maintained a passing interest in the team’s fortunes ever since. We visited Boston in 2000 and on August 23rd of that year we saw the Halos and Red Sox match up. The teams and atmosphere stick in my memory with marked differences to their current incarnations. The Angels and Sox of the Y2K era were 2nd tier clubs, the latter the exemplar of the early playoff exit, a team haunted by a goofy curse and a Game 6 that went very well (1975) and a Game 6 that sank the team’s fortunes deep into the Charles River (1986). While the Red Sox played Garfunkel to the Yankees’ Simon, the Angels toiled in lasting mediocrity, producing oft-injured outfielders and signing aging sluggers to diminishing returns going back to the late 70′s when they first glimpsed October.
*Some dark Boston humor.
In 2000, the game my dad and I saw didn’t matter. The Angels weren’t going anywhere and the Red Sox team was, looking up the standings, 3 behind the Yankees and looking toward another compensation trip to the postseason. Despite the August timeframe, rain bordering on sleet delayed the game a couple of hours and dissipated the announced crowd of 32,000. A good ol’ boy from Southie got more and more tanked and, with Sam Adams and bravado mixing into a brain missing the action from the delayed game, he ended up jumping the short right field fence and sliding with style on the wet tarp all laid out on the infield. He was arrested, of course, but the fans all needed some excitement as we huddled deep under the overhangs so the kid was cheered like a real life Will Hunting. Another Angels fan, braving potential taunts by wearing a jersey, sat a dozen rows beneath and he and I kept up a steady and derided cheer for Tim Salmon and Garrett Anderson. There was ballbusting at that Fenway, families mixing in with strange singles and boozing buddies and girlfriends sipping beer from plastic cups and trying to look cool with dampening hair. I was 10 and the summer rain alone felt foreign to my Los Angeles senses.
My dad was pretty sore by inning zero, his grudging desire to give me a ballgame on our vacation slowly losing out to his needing a Camel Light and some dry clothes. We stayed long enough to see an especially bloated Mo Vaughn belt one out against the old team a little better off without him. By then, I suppose I’d had enough of the shivering and runny nose to feel like I would miss anything. I’d witnessed the Fenway scene, enjoyed it, and knew I’d eventually be back to take it in under a warmer sky.
Despite the downturn in the 2012 fortunes regarding both the Halos and Red Sox, Fenway at least featured 80-degree weather and a packed stadium this time. The scenario was twisted a bit, the 2000 version requiring rampant fan charisma to supplement the dull narrative of the ensuing game. In 2012, the Red Sox and Angels seem engaged in a dispiriting race to the bottom. We weren’t watching two struggling teams but rather dismal displays of payroll dominance remaining an off-season victory. A few times during the Tuesday game, I let out a boo against Pedroia and was greeted with tired Sox fans looking at me like I’d just farted at the Louvre.
The side avenue that runs parallel to the stadium, Yawkey Way, holds much more fervor than the park inside. Vendors pedal merchandise, sausages, drinks, and various bits of crap that sit on the dashboards of commuters from Dedham. My impression of Fenway is similar to that of a subway, crowded and dirty but sort of critical to an urban experience. The subway expedites travel while Fenway expedites tradition. Three or four hours sitting on stiff wooden bleachers in narrow rows and 100 years of a legendary franchise can be felt. Fenway’s been gentrified and the 25-man roster doesn’t provide the value warranted by the ticket prices. The $50+ spent on seats isn’t, I guess, a reflection of a bust pitching rotation and slowing line-up. It’s a ticket to say “I went to Fenway.” Sonorous belts from wild fans can spring from living rooms for a one-time HDTV investment and the comforts of home where today’s baseball exists in its finest form, the Fenway experience drives the museum route, turning away from the animated vivacity of year’s past. My dad might have split after an inning 5 years ago, but Fenway was worth sitting 2 hours in the rain to feel, to open yourself up to and take in. It still is, but as a monument for its memories, not a ballpark for the game it holds.