Fenway Park, July 4, 2010

There are few things that can draw me away from my beloved Newport on July 4 weekend. Maybe a hurricane warning for the Rhode Island coast. A shortage of Stella on Aquidneck Island. Tainted clams in Narragansett Bay. Those are all maybe’s. But I could still get by, if need be.

One definite, however, is Fenway Park. As relaxed and settled in as I was for the long holiday weekend, the siren song of the Green Monster was serenading me (finally, something to replace the sound of the vuvuzelas!).  A sunday afternoon at Fenway is always a treat. Wrap it in the Fourth of July, in the most patriotic of American cities, and you have the perfect recipe for a summer day — and reason for brief sojourn to Beantown.   

My previous four trips to Fenway (how could it only be four??)  were all viewed from behind home or the baselines. This time, however, I would experience Fenway from an entirely different vantage point: the right field bleachers. Section 42, row 29, seat 13, to be exact. Arriving  a good hour before the game with my friend John,  we first explored the many nooks and crannies of the park’s ancient, yet creatively utilized, outfield area.

First stop was the picnic area just inside the right field gate. It had the charming yet gritty feel of  an urban fairground, with the smell of barbecue, kettle corn and grilled hot dogs filling the hot, thick air.  It was hard to pass on a Fenway Frank, but on this sweltering July day, a salty sampling of tube steak probably would not sit well with my fragile constitution. So instead, I devoured a smoky, tangy pulled pork sandwich. Good choice.

With plenty of time to kill before the first pitch, we explored the outer regions of Fenway. The picnic area extended to a dark and covered place beneath the bleachers that I dubbed The Cave. Aside from the various TV monitors hanging from the wall (old, boxy 90’s style TV’s, not the flatscreens you see in most new sports facilities), The Cave probably looks much like it did 70 years ago. Lots of  cracked concrete, green paint, and those amusement park type signs that scream sausages, Budweiser, popcorn and hot dogs to hungry and thirsty fans. Green Monster, the Red Sox mascot who looks like a cheap facsimile of Cookie Monster, skipped about  bringing smiles to kids and even a few clueless adults. A tall, leggy model wearing a bright orange wig was selling . . .I really don’t know what. She seemed oddly out of place. And she didn’t sweat a drop.

We exited The Cave and headed upstairs. There are no elevators or escalators at Fenway, at least once you get beyond the baselines. Nothing but ramps, winding stairs and catwalks. In 90-plus degree heat, we got quite  a workout but it was well worth the hike. High above the right field stands there’s a large party porch complete with full bar, cocktail tables, and standing room where you can enjoy what may be the most scenic view in the Major Leagues.   Spend a few innings here and you’re likely to miss much of the action on the field, but you can enjoy a nice breeze, a cold Bud or a frosty margarita.

With game time approaching we headed down to the bleachers. As I squeezed into my seat and gazed out at the magnificence of Fenway on a sun-splashed Fourth of July, I felt a true sense of bliss. Could there possibly be  a better place to watch a ballgame than from where I sat? Well, perhaps. We’ll get to that in a  moment.

Being that is was July 4 — or Independence Day as the PA announcer so quaintly called it —  the pregame festivities featured an introduction of some special on field guests:  American military personnel, most of whom hailed from the Boston area. Some had returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, most were preparing to ship overseas.  As the Star Spangled banner was sung, quite beautifully by a local woman who was stationed in the Air Force, a massive Star and Stripes was unfurled over the Green Monster.  This was followed by a flyover of F-15’s, the ultimate crowd pleaser.  As the service men and woman filed into the stands (including a  group that sat in our section) to thunderous applause, my mind wandered a bit.  In a few weeks, many of these men and women in uniform would be in a place as far and different as one could imagine from the green grass of Fenway — war torn towns and cities, scorched deserts, bombed out highways and airfields, field hospitals, ground shaking bunkers. The relative simplicity and calm of  a ballpark may seem insignficant in contrast to the enormity of war, but I hoped that every man and woman honored today would return home safely to experience many more sun drenched days at Fenway.

So the game began. Sox vs. Orioles. And I began to sweat. Profusely. These seats were  a little slice of heaven, but on a 90 degree day — which in the bleachers, feels more like 110 — it felt a tad bit like hell. By the end of the second, John was ready to faint so he escaped to The Cave for some shade and fluids. He returned about 20 minutes later with a cold drink and a two-foot long bag of refreshing. . . kettle corn. Not sure what he was thinking, but there are three things I would not eat on a scorching day in the bleachers: barbecued ribs, corn on the cob, and kettle corn. After three handfuls of the sticky, syrupy corn, John realized his mistake, wishing he had gone for the soft serve ice cream instead.

An inning later, it was my turn to hide from the blistering sun. Now if this were Citi Field, I would escape to the air conditioned confines of the Delta 360 Club, grab a beer and sink my tired butt into a  plush leather chair. But there are no Delta Clubs at Fenway. Just The Cave, which is where I headed.  And I was not alone. The place looked like  a  refugee camp — hundreds of tired, sweaty, roasting Sox fans hung around taking in fluids, loitering in front of the mist fans, devouring greasy, salty foods, and watching the Sox go down 2-0 on the boxy TV’s.  As I walked back to my seat for the top of the fifth, I bumped into John who was heading out again. Not sure if it was the heat of the dullness of the game that sent him back toward The Cave, but I suggested we go up to the right field porch and catch a breeze — and maybe  a margarita.

Bad idea. We dragged ourselves up three flights of stairs only to discover that the breeze was as lifeless as the Sox bats this afternoon against O’s pitcher Brian Matusz. It was also too packed to see much of the action on the field. The margarita’s looked good, all lime greeny and slushy,  but we decided that alcohol at this time was not a great  idea. It would slow us down to a screeching halt.  So it was back down to our seats for what we decided would be two more innings at most. As the Sox bats continued to  flail against Matusz, the crowd became more and more subdued, though I’m sure the heat had something to do with the sober atmosphere at normally festive Fenway.

After the seventh, we did our best impersonation of Dodgers fans and headed for the exit. The 4:50 train from Back Bay to Kingston sounded  a lot more appealing than the 6:50.  And besides, I had a feeling the Sox would not stage  a comeback today (they would lose, 6-1).  As we exited the ballpark and headed across the street toward the lovely Back Bay Fens — on a cooler day, there’d be no finer finish to a day at the ballpark than to stroll through the Fens — I looked back one last time. Even on the way out, with just a thick sliver of the park in view, Fenway was a sight to behold, all brick and green painted metal and concrete, red and blue banners waving in the warm breeze, and people everywhere — on the ramps, and stairs, the catwalks, the porches, the picnic tables. The building was a living, breathing thing, a beautiful relic, a monument to preservation, as true an embodiment of the game of baseball as there is in America.

Thank you Fenway for a great Fourth of July.

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