John Updike has described Fenway Park rather in the tone of a lover. " Fenway Park," the Updike rhapsody began, "is a lyric little bandbox of a ball park. Everything is painted green and seems in curiously sharp focus, like the inside of an old-fashioned peeping-type Easter egg." When other adjectives and similes failed him, Updike concluded with the New Englander's ultimate compliment. Fenway Park, he declared, is a " Boston artifact."
Even with an ocean breeze blowing up the Charles River, Fenway Park seems to give off the faint, agreeable mustiness of a gentleman's club. Like all the best Boston institutions it is fronted with red brick. The paint is not only green, it appears, but colonial green. The solid oak door that leads from the street to the executive offices gleams with brass and varnish, and would do justice to a Beacon Hill town house. Set into the bricks not far from the door is one of those bronze plaques that decorate old Boston buildings, verifying them as The Real Thing. This particular plaque bearing the sort of honorific prose ordinarily devoted to Tea Party Revolutionaries, commemorates Edward Trowbridge Collins, perhaps the best of all second basemen and Red Sox general manager 1933 to 1947.
Fenway Park sits in the Fens area of Back Bay, in what may fairly be termed the cultural preserve of Boston, a few blocks walking distance from the Museum of Fine Arts, Harvard Medical School and Symphony Hall, the redbrick home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Among such proper Bostonians the dapper little park does not seem out of place. Nowadays the American stadium, like the motel and the supermarket, has become an interchangeable item, right down to the last blade of AstroTurf. Fenway Park, built in 1912, rebuilt in 1934, belongs to the era when a ball park, in the manner of other civic buildings, took on the character of its community. Ebbets Field in an almost mystical sense was Brooklyn. Fenway Park is Boston, or what Boston used to be.
Inside, the park presents a first impression of spare, puritanical tidiness. The playing field—the rich green against which all baseball greens must be measured—is grass. The neighboring Long-wood Cricket Club, once America's nearest answer to Wimbledon lawn, has turned its players' feet to clay. The Red Sox show no signs of abandoning the traditionalist's position: man should play his ball games on a surface that a cow can eat. The only billboard in the park advertises the Jimmy Fund. There are no electronic waterfall-and-cartoon marvels that light up like a Christmas tree when a native son hits a home run. The very thought would make a Fenway fan shudder. The scoreboard is one of the most informative in baseball, giving inning-by-inning scores of all the games being played in both leagues. But it is operated manually by a crew recessed in a sort of forecastle behind the left-field wall. Human hands lift metal numbers and slide them into slots. When a Red Sox rally is on, the organ does not lead the charge. A Fenway fan would be insulted if it did. Fenway Park is emphatically not a fun emporium, a gag palace frantically designed to keep patrons awake. It is a place for knowledgeable fans. In the self-assured Boston sense that Symphony Hall is the home for Good Music, Fenway Park is the home for Good Baseball. Baseball in Fenway Park could almost pass itself off as a nonprofit institution. If other parks promote baseball as prime-time sitcom, Fenway stages baseball in the style of PBS.
When Fenway Park is filled it is crowded only to a Boston scale. With a capacity listed at 33,379, Fenway is the smallest stadium in the American League, the second smallest in the majors. (Only Jarry Park, the home field of the Montreal Expos, seating 28,000, is smaller.) Fenway is also the last of the original single-deck parks. There are simply no bad seats. Even in the top row of the bleachers, under the right center-field clock, a spectator (for $1.50) is in touch with the game. Fenway Park is intimate as few stadiums (or, for that matter, few performing centers of any kind) are these days. Really far-out fans say that even the catwalk on a rooftop Windsor Canadian whiskey sign across the street gives an excellent view, though the price has just gone up astronomically. Eight freeloaders were fined $100 apiece this summer by a pro-Red Sox, antitrespassing judge.
The visitor who has been lost on Boston streets—those vestigial cow paths perpetuated by Yankee surveyors—will laugh or cry or rage, depending on his temperament, when he recognizes the same random pattern at work in Fenway Park. The edge of the playing field is defined by 10 or 11 zigs and zags, according to how you count. The effect is of a jigsaw puzzle with at least one piece willfully fitted wrong. The most famous section of the puzzle is, of course, the left-field wall, more or less affectionately known as the Green Monster.
Other famous (and infamous) physical attributes besides the Monster distinguish Fenway. For instance, this innocent-looking stadium boasts one of the most intimidating sun fields in baseball. In Boston, so goes the folklore, the sun rises in the east and sets in the eyes of the rightfielder. The first sunglasses ever used in baseball were purchased from Lloyds of Boston by Red Sox Rightfielder Harry Hooper of the brilliant pre-World War I outfield of Hooper, Tris Speaker and Duffy Lewis.
Then there are the birds. On May 17, 1947 a seagull passing over Fenway Park dropped a three-ounce smelt it was carrying on the pitcher's mound, then occupied by Ellis Kinder who, it is said, fielded it neatly by the tail. But pigeons are the species that can turn Fenway practically into an aviary. A true bird story: a foul ball hit by Detroit Outfielder Willie Horton killed a pigeon in mid-flight. Until the police demurred, Ted Williams, the Great White Hunter of Fenway Park, used to spend off-days unloading his shotgun at the pigeons that made their preferred roost in the Kid's left-field stands.
No catalog of Fenway eccentricities would be complete without mention of the weather. Mark Twain was not just kidding when he said of New England weather that if you don't like it, wait a minute. Snow was falling on April 9,1912 when the Red Sox beat Harvard 2-0 in the first game ever played in Fenway Park, and there are patrons—carriers of mackintoshes and umbrellas in August—who believe the weather has never been normal since. Ted Williams' first act in the morning was to call the park to find out which odd and perverse way the flag was blowing. New England gale winds have not only promoted pop flies into homers but torn the big hand from the clock and bent the left-field foul pole. The late Harold Kaese, a witty and erudite columnist for
The Boston Globe
, whose Rooter's Guide to the Red Sox
is the definitive collection of Fenway Park trivia, recorded that on April 25,1962 the ocean breeze dropped the temperature at Fenway from 78� to 58� in 10 minutes. When all other whammies fail, nature has been known to lower pea-soup fogs on Fenway Park, causing the bravest outfielders to cower under fly balls. On Aug. 8, 1966, a foggy, foggy day in Boston town, the game had to be stopped four times because of poor visibility.
Before the Monster came into being in 1934, left field featured an incline dubbed Duffy's Cliff, after Duffy Lewis, who chased fly balls up this mini-hill with the agility of a mountain goat. One of the beloved Red Sox myths concerns a subsequent leftfielder with the Dickensian name of Smead Jolley and a nice round Dickensian shape to match. Smead was a fair country hitter, and the project of the day for all hands was to teach him to negotiate the geography peculiar to his position. One afternoon early in his Red Sox career he fairly flew up Duffy's Cliff. But when Jolley made the catch and tried to throw the ball he fell on his very round, very red face. By the time he reached the bench he had his story prepared. Glaring at his mentors, he snarled, "Oh, sure, you showed me how to climb that damn hill, but no smart guy told me how to come down."