Lansdowne winner: Fenway beats Yankee Stadium
When it comes to the enjoying the ballpark experience, "The House That Ruth Built" isn't in the same league.
After watching the Yankees and Red Sox battle at Fenway Park on Friday night and Saturday afternoon, I'd like to tell you what I learned about them.
Unfortunately, they split a couple of close games, and anyway it's almost impossible to learn anything in just two games.
About baseball teams, that is. About baseball stadiums, one can learn quite a lot. I also visited Yankee Stadium last week, and after experiencing both in such a short time, the differences between them are clearer to me than ever.
Fenway Park is, if not the best ballpark -- Wrigley Field can make that claim, too -- a truly wonderful place to see a game. Meanwhile, Yankee Stadium is like one of those houses with the sign outside that says, "George Washington slept here."
Great, I'm glad I saw it, now let's go find the World Second-Largest Ball of Twine.
I'm kidding, of course. If you're a baseball fan, you have to visit Yankee Stadium.
But just once. Yankee Stadium is a fine place for reflection, but it's simply not a great place to actually see a baseball game, and I'm not even sure that it's a good place to see a baseball game.
For one thing, the colors are all wrong. The dominant color of any ballpark should be green ... but in Yankee Stadium, the only green you'll see is the grass on the field. Almost everything else is blue, with the lone exception being the eye-jarring black hitter's background where the center-field bleachers used to be.
|On-field edge: Yankees|
The Red Sox might have the better ballpark (actually, it's not close), but the Yankees have the better team (though it's pretty close).
Consider this: A great number of things have gone wrong for the Yankees this season, a great number of things have gone right for the Red Sox ... and still the Sox trail the Yanks by 2½ games (entering Sunday night's game). Eight Red Sox hitters have enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title, while only six Yankees do. What's more, three of the Yankees' best hitters -- Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, and Nick Johnson -- have spent significant time on the DL this season.
All the Yankees are healthy now, and so they have a clear edge down the stretch.
-- Rob Neyer
So that's one problem. Another is the sheer size of Yankee Stadium. Even in the good seats, you never feel like you're particularly close to the players because the stands are set back a fair piece from the diamond, and in the bad seats you might as well be in Queens. I once spent nine innings in the upper deck far above and beyond right field, and I swore I'd never sit up there again.
So that's two problems. Another is that the Yankees aren't content to let the product on the field take care of the entertainment. So between innings, the music is so loud that you have to shout to somebody sitting right next to you. At one point during every game, a few unfortunate members of the grounds crew are forced to perform a ridiculous "dance" routine set to "YMCA," which is more than a little embarrassing for all concerned. At another point, a significant percentage of the fans go bonkers because of a wonderful little ditty called "Cotton-Eyed Joe." And don't even get me started on Kate Smith ...
So that's three problems. Another is that Yankee Stadium must be the most class-conscious ballpark in the major leagues. It's not uncommon, around the majors, for ushers to ask for proof that you do actually belong in the expensive seats. But at Yankee Stadium, the ushers actually block off the box seats with chains. Show your ticket, the chain is withdrawn, and you're allowed to mingle with the fat cats. Otherwise, keep walking mister.
Fenway Park is everything that Yankee Stadium is not.
Well, that's not precisely true. Both are mind-bogglingly expensive. But otherwise, Fenway might best be described as The House That Ruth Didn't Build. And for that, baseball fans should be grateful.
Just as Yankee Stadium is decidedly class-conscious, Fenway Park is not. You won't find any chains separating the obscenely expensive seats from the silly expensive seats, and most of the time you won't even find an usher. In fact, you're expected to grab any seat that's not occupied, even if it happens to be six feet from the home team's on-deck circle.
Just as Yankee Stadium is massive and impersonal, Fenway Park is not. One can, from any seat in Fenway Park, actually see the faces of nearly everybody else in the park. And the faces that you can see ... Friday night, I saw Bill James, and Michael Lewis and Stephen King. Now, this obviously was an exceptional evening, but the point is that in Fenway Park, you're wedged into the old building so tightly that you can't help but come into close contact with a great number of people. And in our society, where we go to such great lengths to avoid contact with our fellow citizens, I find that awfully refreshing.
And of course, there's also the closeness to the field. For that game on Friday night, I was maybe a dozen rows back. But when Pedro Martinez pitched to Jason Giambi -- he struck him out three times, each time with a mid-90s fastball -- I felt like I was there, feeling the air move each time Giambi whiffed. I've sat in the second row in Yankee Stadium, and you just don't get anything like that same feeling.
Just as Yankee Stadium attempts to cram entertainment down your throat, for the most part the Red Sox let the game speak for itself. There is music between the innings, but if you don't enjoy "Sweet Caroline" in the middle of the seventh then there's something wrong with you. There's no "YMCA," no "Cotton-Eyed Joe," and no "Day-Oh!" played at mind-numbing volume. The Red Sox seem to think that the baseball is entertainment enough (and it is).
And just as Yankee Stadium is blue and black, Fenway Park is green. Gloriously green. I wasn't sure what I'd think about the new Monster Seats, but I'm happy to report that they blend so well with the Monster itself that after awhile you hardly notice them. Even the new billboards atop the new Monster Seats -- which, regrettably, do block views of the CITGO sign -- are the same green as the Monster, so one's eyes are never offended by a color that doesn't belong.
I have a friend -- for the sake of argument, let's call him "Jim Caple" -- who says I like to see baseball players' socks because that's how they wore them in the 1970s, when I was growing up. He's wrong, though. No, some truths are simply self-evident. One of them is that baseball players look better when the bottom of their pants don't scrape the ground. And another is that Fenway Park is the best place in the world to see a baseball game.
Senior writer Rob Neyer writes four columns per week during the baseball season. His new book, "Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Lineups," has just been published by Fireside. For more information about the book, visit Rob's Web site.
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