Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Wonder of the World

Good thing they’ve got Fenway.

Over the course of this offseason I’ve traveled thousands of miles speaking about Fenway Park with fans all over the country, and along the way I’ve learned a few things that I found quite surprising. One is that, although there are a fair number Red Sox fans out there, they are not quite as pervasive as they were three or four or five years ago. Not so long ago the pre-distressed and faded Sox cap was ubiquitous no matter where one went anywhere in the country, as impossible to avoid in airports and train stations as Hare Krishnas once were.

But in my travels this off season Sox hats and other paraphernalia were strictly a regional phenomenon. They are almost nonexistent in my corner of Vermont and do not begin to show up in any numbers until one reaches either Burlington or New Hampshire. Even then, once one travels through Massachusetts, the fade begins as soon as one crosses the Connecticut River. I still saw a few in New York, but elsewhere, in Pennsylvania, Quebec, Michigan, Ohio and even nether reaches like Arizona, Sox hats were as rare as Yankee caps in the bleachers.

Another observation is that after I got done speaking about Fenway Park, although Sox fans wanted to chat, they did not want to discuss this team, think at all about last year, and didn’t have a kind thing to say about anyone on who worked at Yawkey Way. They’re ticked off, not just about the beer and chicken and the colossal September collapse, but about the whole hoary ball of wax. I got nostalgia, but not for 2007 and 2004. Instead people wanted to talk about the 1990s and 1980s, when the Red Sox still seemed unique and different and were in many ways much more approachable than they are today. Once upon a time, the Red Sox were different from other franchises, and not just because they hadn’t won a World Series in generations. Now there seems to be a general consensus that apart from the laundry the Sox might as well be the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, a fantasy team made of money. I can’t remember a single old lady gushing to me about Dustin Pedroia or Jacoby Ellsbury, anyone asking if I thought Daniel Bard could make the transition from the bullpen, or even if I thought Carl Crawford was a bum or who should play shortstop. The Red Sox didn’t seem essential anymore.

The most significant observation will be obvious all year; Fenway Park is the best thing this team has going for them. While there are undoubtedly a lot of Red Sox fans I can say with utter confidence that there are a lot more fans of Fenway Park. No matter where I went after I finished speaking and was signing books three or five or ten fans would sidle up and say, sotto voce, “You know I’m really a fan of (fill in the blank – Yankees, Dodgers, football or Beyonce),” and then, voice rising to audible again, “but I LOVE Fenway Park.”

Then something remarkable would happen. These fans of things other than the Red Sox and Red Sox fans would start talking to each other and over a few words realize that they were not in opposition actually but bound together by this place. Who won and who lost mattered a lot less than when they saw their first game, where they sat, who they went with and how much they paid. Most of the time, in fact, people couldn’t remember which team won.

Yet they could remember how Fenway Park looked and smelled and how the ballpark suddenly just appear from nowhere as they walked down Beacon Street or Ipswich, and what the weather was and who they sat next to and what they ate. Most importantly, however, is that they remembered how it made them feel, which was different that any place on the planet they had ever been before or would be again. To all these people Fenway Park is nothing less than one of the wonders of the world, equal in stature to the Colosseum, the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China, Chichen Itza, Machu Picchu or the Pyramids. And that is why, despite the obstructed views and still-too-small seats, the ungodly prices and the embarrassment of a team brought down by beer and chicken, the stands are still full of pilgrims.

Fenway Park, one hundred years old and more important now than ever, is the reason. People come here not for the game or the team, but for the continuing wonder of the place and the way it brings them together for a moment as one, regardless of the score.

Glenn Stout is the author of the Boston Globe bestseller Fenway 1912. Those interested in having Glenn speak about Fenway Park can contact him thru his website, www.glennstout.net.

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