Print and Go Back ESPN.com: ESPNBoston [Print without images]

Tuesday, August 21, 2012
Fun at Fenway? Why not?

By Dan Peterson
ESPNBoston.com

Nolan Family
After hundreds of trips to Fenway, Tom Nolan (far right) had a seat with a different view, sitting atop the Monster with family friend Sarah Vrotny, daughter Mayree, and twin sons Carter and Riley.

BOSTON -- Fenway Park's 100th anniversary season has generally felt like anything but a celebration.

Communication breakdowns and melodrama plaguing new manager Bobby Valentine's clubhouse … culminating in the firing of pitching coach Bob McClure.

Monster Seats
In addition to offering a unique perspective, Fenway's Monster seats also can provide plenty of action on home run balls.

An unprecedented run of injuries and 26 players -- an entire roster's worth -- spending time on the disabled list … including David Ortiz's currently ballooning stint, which seems to have submarined the Boston Red Sox just as they were finally getting back to full strength, and Carl Crawford's belated but promising comeback, which has been curtailed by Tommy John surgery.

Most of all, a disappointing performance that has the Red Sox 13 games back in the AL East and eight back in the wild-card race, sputtering along with a 59-64 record, including an unfathomable 29-35 at home -- worse than all but five major league teams.

So much for Fenway's vaunted home-field advantage.

And yet fans keep filling the seats faithfully, as the team has topped three million in attendance for the fourth straight year and its record sellout streak continues into its 10th year (although, in this most contentious of seasons, even the validity of those attendance figures has come under fire).

Amid all the controversy and negativity splashed across the sports section and the Internet, all the noise from talking heads on radio and TV, there's still a large, and reasonable (if soft-spoken), number of us who connect with the name on the front (if not the back) of the hometown-team jerseys, lots of regular New Englanders who still love coming out to the ballpark to enjoy a fun summer day or night with family and friends.

And an appreciation for major league baseball's oldest stadium is at the heart of that loyalty.

It's hard to believe now, but Fenway hasn't always enjoyed such reverence and passionate devotion. In fact, its very existence has been threatened by extinction multiple times in the past century, most recently in 1999, when the man running the Red Sox at that time, CEO John Harrington, went public with a plan to raze the crumbling old park and replace it with a fully modernized replica -- much like the Yankees would do a decade later when new Yankee Stadium opened in 2010.

But along came John W. Henry's ownership group, which -- again, it's hard to remember now, in the current climate of negativity -- has done so much to renovate (and monetize) the aging structure on Yawkey Way.

That decade-long transformation is now complete, culminating in the March 7 listing of Fenway on the National Register of Historic Places. Fenway's future viability is assured.

The park's most enduring, and endearing, change during Henry's reign was one of the first. The Green Monster seats opened in 2003, but the allure remains as fresh as ever.

"This is the best thing they ever did," said longtime Sox fan and Quincy resident Tim Dane, 58. "I don't know why they didn't do it in the old days."

Dane has been coming to Fenway since the 1960s and boasts of the times when he'd sneak into the stadium behind a bullpen Dumpster. Of course, those days are long gone, and the Monster seats are among the priciest offered by the Red Sox, going for $165 apiece for a single game.

But earlier this season, Dane found himself sitting just off the left-field foul pole in the first row of section M1 -- free of charge.

Laurel & Tim Dane
Laurel Dane treated her dad, Tim, with a Father's Day gift to remember.

There was no security breach or chicanery at work; he was the guest of his 18-year-old daughter, Laurel, who hadn't been to a game at Fenway in about 10 years. She'll be a freshman at Bridgewater State this fall and wanted to do something special for Father's Day -- "because I'm the best," she said with a smile, wanting to retain her self-proclaimed favored status over her younger brother Connor, 16, and sister Brianne, 12.

The Danes' Monster experience seems to be pretty typical -- it's a wonderful way for baseball fans to commemorate particularly special occasions. It's a unique experience that can't be replicated or even approximated anywhere else in the big leagues -- there's only one Green Monster.

And sitting atop a stool in one of its spacious rows with plenty of walking room behind you and a wide rail of tabletop in front of you is an intimate setting, so different from being amid a sea of crowded seats in the grandstand or bleachers. It's a private, exalted perch -- like watching the game at your favorite neighborhood bar, except the game isn't on the TV; it's right there in front of you.

Indeed, sitting on the Monster is a bucket-list item for most Sox fans. Take 55-year-old Tom Nolan, who has held season tickets in Section 15 on the first-base side since 1987 and says he's been to Fenway "hundreds of times." But he "never sat up here" before last month, when the father of three sprung for Monster seats to celebrate the 19th birthday of his twin sons, Carter and Riley, bringing along daughter Mayree, 16, and her friend Sarah Vrotny as well.

"I love 'em," Tom Nolan said -- meaning the seats, but his words clearly applied to his children, not to mention his favorite baseball team.

As players fall in and out of favor, managers and even upper management come and go, and architectural features are added and subtracted, Fenway Park and the Monster remain, going stronger than ever at 100 years old.

Dan Peterson is an editor for ESPNBoston.com.