It was a Friday evening in Boston, and there was only one place to be: Fenway Park. The atmosphere was electric as the crowd of spectators took their seats or made a final dash to the beer stalls. The Boston Red Sox were set to take on the Toronto Blue Jays, but, from a glance around the stands, it was clear the home team were heavily favoured.
The gorgeous autumn day had given way to a glorious night. The setting sun cast long shadows across the historic park. The air was warm, the famous Boston cold nowhere to be found. Boston is one of the United States’ most beautiful cities, but on this evening, it felt magical somehow. It could have been the beer, or the hotdogs, or the vintage splendour of Fenway Park. It felt like we were experiencing a pure slice of Americana.
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To be fair, neither my boyfriend nor I knew a thing about baseball. But a friend and baseball aficionado, upon learning that we would be in Boston, insisted that it was the best way to experience the city.
“You have to go watch the Red Soxs play,” he had said. “Then you will really feel like a local.”
And we did feel like locals. We even looked the part — in the obligatory red and navy blue Red Sox stripes. My boyfriend had warned that baseball fans were fierce, violent even, and if we were not in the local colours, or dare I say, supporting the other team, we could expect repercussions. He had heard stories of unsuspecting outsiders having beers tipped on their heads for not showing enough love to the Red Soxs, or even wearing the away jersey for a home game. The way he told it, baseball fans made the football fans of Europe and South America seem tame. I had my doubts about this, but, admittedly, I wasn’t prepared to take my chances.
The crowd, however, could not have been further from a rampaging gang of ruffians. Indeed, it seemed there was no age limit on a Red Sox fan. Everywhere we looked, there were young families, with children sporting Red Sox caps and foam fingers, and elderly supporters, ready to roar with the best of them. I had never seen so many people at a game of sport.
The game began with the United States’ national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner. It was a rousing rendition, even for an Australian. Americans are nothing, if not patriotic.
The Red Sox were the first to bat. As the first hitter stepped up to the plate, I was surprised by how unfit he appeared. There was no lean physique honed by hours in the gym. Rather, this hitter had a paunch. I was shocked, accustomed as I was to the lithe frames of Australian sportsmen.
“They need big guys because they’re the big hitters,” my boyfriend explained. He was right. They may not have looked particularly athletic, but these batsmen could hit. Time and again, the ball soared across the field: into the stands, into the outfield, and to the top of the Green Monster. You could not see the tiny ball as it disappeared into the twilight.
If the Red Soxs are a Boston institution, Fenway Park is Mecca. Although the park is small by the extensive standards of many modern American ballparks, it is baseball’s most beloved ground.
Fenway is known for its unique and unusual features, including the Green Monster, an 11.3-metre wall in the left field. The park is also home to the Lone Red Seat in the bleachers of the right field. This is the only red seat among the sea of blue, symbolising the longest home run ever hit by Ted Williams in 1940. Fenway’s scoreboard, which was added in 1934 and sits at the bottom of the Green Monster, is one of only two remaining manual scoreboards, updated each game by hand.
Certainly, entering Fenway feels like an almost magical experience, even for someone with only a passing interest in baseball. Hand-painted signs adorn the army green walls, with slogans like ‘Go the Red Sox’ and ‘Take the T to Fenway’. Pennants hang from the ceiling, celebrating the Red Soxs’ World Series wins.
It was like stepping back in time, to a more wholesome era.
I pondered this, lemonade in one hand and hot dog in the other, as the Red Sox players continued to step up to the plate. Despite a few big hits, they were out within 10 minutes. It was now the Blue Jays’ turn to bat. It continued like this, back and forth between the Red Soxs and the Blue Jays, for nine more innings. Even I knew the Red Soxs weren’t doing very well. Despite crushing the away team in the previous night’s game, they were struggling to perform, much to the despair of the crowd. The young boy next to me, who could not have been more than 10 years’ old, had his heads in his hands lamenting the performance of his favourite team.
But we didn’t care. Win or lose, it was amazing to experience the excitement and anticipation of our first baseball game. Particularly in a city I had come to love, for its beauty, its attitude and its history. And, its clam chowder.
The Red Soxs fell to the Blue Jays, 12-6. But in the best of three series, it was a matter of down but not out. There was always tomorrow night.
We followed the crowds exiting Fenway Park, into the crisp autumn evening. Despite the loss, the supporters were upbeat.
“We’ll be back tomorrow,” someone yelled from the thick of the throng, as others erupted into cheers.
We strolled into the night, in a sea of navy and red, pretending we were locals, commiserating with the rest of the Red Sox fans. Loss or no loss, this was Boston at its best.