Thursday, September 11, 2014

Yawkey Way

     The street is small but all the stands and activity and banners make it seem even tighter. The intersection where we had parked led either down the shadowed tight street or along a sunlit walk dotted with statutes.  The anchor of that intersection was a ticket booth and entrance gate that stood tall yet oddly inviting, as if to keep the people, and anything else, in more than the crowd gathering outside out.  We were a part of that gathering crowd, lining up to buy a ticket to visit this historic structure, the oldest ballpark in the nation.
     Fenway Park sits on Yawkey Way in Boston, MA.  It's mailing address is 4 Yawkey Way and that street is filled with the park's "official" store, concession stands, and banners touting the home of the Boston Red Sox.  The store is the meeting place for tour-goers and baseball fans and history buffs to become acquainted with their tour guide for the day.  And ours was an old gentleman steeped in both Boston tradition and baseball history.  He was accompanied by two younger ushers that would keep us on our route.  Armed with a portable loudspeaker, he greeted our group with a smile and joke and small history lesson about this nationally-recorded landmark.  And then our journey began.
     Through the service gates we flowed.  Down into the bottom hallway dotted with concession stands and food carts and medical golf carts.  We were in the famous hallway that has been used in a whole slew of movies, most notably "The Town" and even a zombie B-movie.  Prominent among all of the signs and banners and menus was one frame filled with a Boston Red Sox jersey with the Boston area code 617 adorning it and a B Strong patch.  It is there as a reminder and memorial to the victims of the Marathon Bombing in 2013.  The tour silently passes the jersey and climbs a short staircase out a tunnel that leads to daylight and the interior of the ballpark.  Everywhere around us is green.  We are swallowed by it, blinded by it, thoroughly engulfed.  The seats are painted green.  The infrastructure is dark green.  The green padded walls fight to contain the perfectly manicured grass, which is the color of green, green grass only brighter, sparkling, almost to the point of hurting our eyes.  Our guide takes up a position at the front of the bleachers so that we may all sit and listen as he retells stories of days gone past when there was nothing but swamp and mud on the spot we now occupy.  There is the story of the walls burning down because of a forgotten cigar that lit a blaze.  Another story of the morse code hidden among the scoreboard commemorating the owners of the team.  The mysterious ladder hanging in the middle of the "Green Monsta" with no top nor bottom has a story.  Babe Ruth, Boston, New York, Ted Williams, announcers, and even fans (The Royal Rooters), all have myths and tales and legends and curses.  The ballpark (don't call it a stadium or an old gentleman from Boston will visit you with a baseball bat and a hard lesson about "real" baseball) is filled with all of these and more.
     Our heads swimming with tales of times long past, we climb to the top of the Green Monster, a harrowing green monolith in left field that dares hitters to try to sail a ball over it.  We are told that balls careen off the wall at over 90 mph and with the right angle a ball will sail clear out of the park if it gets over the Monster and down to the street and famous tavern below.  The view from up there is spectacular, the best of any ballpark, straight down the third base line to home plate.  The kids sit in the coveted seats and imagine a game taking place.
     We head away from the Monster and toward the press boxes.  Lining the walls are a collection of Sports Illustrated covers, every one that a Red Sox player has ever been on.  Then comes the Hall of Fame and plaques to commemorate every Red Sox milestone.  Finally, before reaching the booths of all the TV and radio announcers, we see old jerseys dating back to an original one from the turn of last century, over 100 years of baseball.  We visit the behind-the-scenes workings of the park and head toward an exit in right field.  On the way we pass the only red seat in the place, deep in the bleachers of right.  It was placed there, among the sea of green, to note the longest home run hit here, 502 feet.  It was hit by Ted Williams and the distance was measured accurately by the old man with the straw hat that dozed in that seat when the home run knocked him in the head.  To this day, the family of Mr. Boucher, the man with the straw hat, return every so often to visit that historic seat. 
     The final stop before leaving the park was the Royal Rooters Club.  It is a pub, a museum, a place of solace for any Red Sox fan.  It is a giant room filled with memorabilia, gloves, bats, jerseys, pictures, and old guides wearing multiple World Series rings now that the curse has been lifted.  The place is a summation of the ballpark, of the town.  Fenway Park is the history of America's sport.  It does more than house a baseball team, it holds the story of baseball itself.  Among the walls and concrete and wood, ghosts of glorious days gone by walk, stories litter the stands like peanut shells, myths hide in every nook of the place.  In some places you can smell the old leather and hear the faint roar of crowds lingering on the breeze.  This is what baseball was, is, and always should be, a landmark that refuses to expand to meet the salary demands of the spoiled children playing now but holds true to the history contained within it.  And Boston, a town that supports, with hard-headed determination, that sort of die-hard tradition.  This is a landmark that should be visited by any fan of any sport to see how legends are built, for a lifetime.