One of my prize possessions is a photograph, taken from the 1986 World Series.
The Red Sox were poised to win it all. There were two outs. The Mets were at bat. Mookie Wilson of the New York Mets had just hit a slow ground ball down the first base line. Bill Buckner, the first baseman for the Boston Red Sox, let the ball go under his legs. The tying run scored and the Mets went on to win the series. There would be no celebrating in Boston.
Many years later, that photo was given to me, signed by both Wilson and Buckner.
I am a die-hard Mets fan. My sister, who lives in Boston, is a fanatic follower of the Red Sox.
I live for moments in Shea Stadium. But my sister lives for lifetime experiences — in Fenway Park.
If baseball is the national pastime, then Fenway Park in Boston is a shrine to the spirit of the country.
It was the original house of Babe Ruth, and other Hall of Famers like Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski.
While Shea is a stadium, Fenway is a shrine. And until quite recently, it was all about what might have been. What should or could have been, about the games that got away.
It’s been eclipsed by dozens of super-domed stadiums in other cities, by fortresses of professional sports dynasties. But, as the oldest and smallest ballpark in Major League Baseball, it has what most other stadiums don’t: history, memories and passion.
The Red Sox have been playing baseball here since 1912, but as is almost always the case with Fenway, even the good news is followed by a comma. The Red Sox won their first game here — an 11-inning victory over the New York Highlanders, but the news was overshadowed by the sinking of the Titanic.
Fenway Park is all about myths, legends and storytelling that often ends with the challenge “You could look it up.”
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Most other stadiums have skyboxes and reserved luxury seats. But Fenway has the “green monster” in left field, the 37-foot-high, 231-foot-long left-field wall. And then there’s the infamous red seat deep in the right-field bleachers. On June 9, 1946, Ted Williams hit a towering 502-foot home run and the ball hit the hat of a man sitting in section 421, row 37, seat 21. And that seat is now painted red.
But the Red Sox went decades without a World Series win. Until the miracle year of 2004 — one of the greatest comebacks in baseball history — when they won their first world championship since 1918.
You don’t just go to Fenway to watch baseball. You go there to pay your respects.
There’s only one other stadium in America that comes close in terms of history and storytelling. And that’s Wrigley Field in Chicago, home to the Cubs.
Like the Red Sox, the Cubs have been sadly measured in terms of what might have been. Rogers Hornsby, Ernie Banks, Billy Herman, all big baseball stars playing for a team that could never quite win it all. And the fans, both inside the stadium and in the apartment buildings behind it in deep center and right fields, sitting on lawn chairs on the roofs.
The team doesn’t have a mascot, but for years it had the late Harry Caray, the legendary announcer, singing to the fans at every game during the seventh inning stretch.
Fenway was opened in 1912, Wrigley in 1914, making it the second-oldest ballpark in America. Even the original scoreboard, constructed in 1937, remains intact. And if you see a flag flying with a “W” or an “L” on top of the scoreboard after a game, it’s for passengers passing by on the trains heading home so they know if the Cubs won.
Speaking of winning, the Cubs have not won a World Series for 99 years. It represents the longest pennant drought in Major League history. But that hasn’t stopped the fans from hoping, and the tourists from coming to see their beloved Cubs. Both Wrigley, and Fenway prove the beauty and the simplicity of baseball — it doesn’t matter whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game that counts. And also … where.
Because Fenway is located in the center of Boston, it’s easily accessible by the T. In fact, since parking is limited, taking public transportation is encouraged. All Green Line trains except the E go there — the B and C stop at Kenmore, and the E stops at Fenway.
You can also take the Red Sox bus (handicapped accessible), which departs from Ruggles Station every 10 minutes, beginning 90 minutes before game time. Just show your ticket and transportation is free! You’ll be dropped off at Gate B at Fenway Park, at the corner of Ipswich and Van Ness streets. Return service begins at the start of the seventh inning and ends an hour after the game.
Ballpark tours have been going on since 1993. Tours depart from the Souvenir Store across Yawkey Way seven days a week, on the hour from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. $10 kids, $12 adults. 617-226-6666, http://boston.redsox.mlb.com/bos/ballpark/tour.jsp
Because of its central location, parking is hard to come by. You can pay up to $30 for a space. Public transportation is encouraged, and the CTA Red Line goes directly to Wrigley at the Addison stop.
The Cubs operate a $6 shuttle and parking service at the DeVry University campus off Addison Street and Western Avenue for all weekend and night games. The first shuttle leaves two and one half hours prior to the game. The shuttle runs for one hour after night games and two hours after weekend day games.
Wrigley Field tours are $25 per person. The 90-minute tours stop by the Cubs clubhouse, dugouts, press box and bleachers. Tours are scheduled every 30 minutes between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Peter Greenberg is TODAY’s travel editor. His column appears weekly on TODAYshow.com. Visit his Web site at PeterGreenberg.com.
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