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Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Giving Fenway Park a second chance

By Christina Kahrl

BOSTON -- Consider this my own lesson in why you should always be careful with unconsidered first impressions. That might be easy to say when we’re talking about a classic venue like Fenway Park, but Fenway didn’t impress me much during my only previous visit. That was back on June 28, 2002 when I was here for the SABR convention. That day produced SABR’s nifty oral history project of the day we spent there. My own recollection from my perch up in center field? That, whatever its reputation and revered status, as a place to catch a ballgame Fenway didn’t compare favorably to my usual haunt -- Wrigley Field.

I’ll be the first to admit that memory’s a plastic thing, sometimes hardening with age, sometimes fraying and getting slippery, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that my own memory of the place got dingier with age. On the basis of that single introduction, over time I’d already pushed Fenway behind Huntington Park (home of the Triple-A Columbus Clippers) on my personal list of favorite ballparks, as much a testament of the former’s virtues as it reflects a failure of judgment on the basis of a lone impression.

But that judgment was reached before so many things changed about Fenway. It was before John Henry and the immaculate franchise switcheroo that put modern mallparks in Miami and D.C. -- but topped both new venues by reinventing something older and better, by assembling in Boston the means to remake Fenway as the cathedral its meant to be.

Arriving here for the World Series, I’ve had some fun knocking around the place, yesterday for the media day and today before Game 1. It’s always easy to love a ballpark when its full and the game’s going, but getting to walk around and explore a bit the last couple days gave me an opportunity to enjoy it on its own terms. Finally laying my eyes on Fenway’s Lone Red Seat -- something you don’t get to spot when somebody’s sitting in it -- was one treat.

But keeping in mind that Fenway is wedged into a fairly small footprint within a city, the use of space was what I was really interested in. I know only too well how badly Wrigley needs work, and my memories of Old Yankee Stadium were similarly unkind, so having the time to really look around, it certainly seems like Fenway’s working it. The concourse won’t be mistaken for that in one of the modern parks, but whether I was ill-served by the memory of a dim warren or whether the improvements -- especially on the D concourse -- just totally changed the old park’s vibe, either way it’s working for me now. Wending my way through various stairwells, taking in different sightlines at different levels, seeing the ingenuity of the additional seating, all of it has been fun. Add in the historical embellishments -- like the display of changing Red Sox logos over time -- and there just seems like there’s a lot more to see and enjoy about the place itself.

So now, parked out here in the auxiliary press box under the upper deck out in right field, I’m enjoying the chance to work here not just because, hey, it’s the World Series, and it’s baseball, and how can you go wrong there? But also, I’m enjoying it as another exercise in learning about how wrong I was at first blush about a place that has cast its spell over millions across a century.


Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.