Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Remembering Fenway Park

If we can be completely honest with each other, I’ve never been a member of the “Save Fenway Park Club”. I found the lyrical, little bandbox to be cramped, dirty and a bit depressing. Every winter the previous Red Sox ownership would slap a little green paint on the Wall and proclaim that they “updated” the park for the next season. However, generations of green paint couldn’t hide the crumbling bleachers or the compact seats or the terrible sight lines or the appalling lack of any modern amenities*.

* When Gillette Stadium were built at the turn of this century, Bostonians actually got excited because the seats had cup holders. This is not an exaggeration. Writers wrote about this phenomenon and people in the Boston area were pumped for a half-cylindrical piece of plastic that held a 16-ounce beverage. That’s how poor the stadia in the greater Boston area was even a decade ago—the addition of cup holders were met with Hosannas.

I had been to other parts of the country and I had watched a game from a seat that faced home plate (not left field). And I’ve been to a ball park that didn’t give me a choice between Bud and Bud Lite and called it a day. I’ve been to a ball park where the game was the number one priority, but the enjoyment and comfort of the fans was paramount too.

It was good. And it made me hate my home ballpark, Fenway Park, even more.

So when “Remembering Fenway Park: An Oral and Narrative History of the Home of the Boston Red Sox” by Harvey Frommer came to my home, I was a bit suspect. Yes, under the new ownership of John Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Luccino, the experience at Fenway Park has become infinitely better. But this place is still old. And while their tenure has made me want to bomb the place back to the stone age less, really didn’t want it to stand for another 100 years either.

After reading Frommer’s book, my attitude changed even more. There are scant few places in the world where one has access to this much history on a daily basis and Fenway Park is one of them. Frommer has gone to great lengths to interview and create a narrative where the reader is able to delve into the rich history of the Red Sox, from the folks who were actually there. The ballpark and the team’s history is intertwined.

One of my all-time favorite books is “Loose Balls” by Terry Pluto, which details the rise and fall of the American Basketball Association. Using only the recollections and words of the people who were associated with the ABA, Pluto penned a fascinating book that felt epic in scale to its subject. Frommer has done the same thing with his book, and being a die-hard Red Sox fan, I couldn’t be happier.

From players to sportswriters to long-time fans, the passion of the people that he interviews is captured in each anecdote they tell and practically jumps off each page. And that’s what makes this more than just another stale history of the Boston Red Sox—most can spout the names and numbers of events both good and bad in Red Sox history as if they were our children’s birth dates—this books is more like a gathering of your closest and most knowledgeable baseball friends sitting around and swapping extremely entertaining stories.

And while the writing is fascinating, the photographs are just as fantastic. I’m not going to be too bold and say that I’ve seen every picture of the Boston Red Sox ever taken. That’s obviously an insane proclamation, but I have seen a lot and I must say that by my calculations at least 90% of the shots in “Remembering Fenway Park” are ones that I had never laid eyes on before.

All of the great Red Sox heroes of the past are represented here including a really cool double page shot of Ted Williams pitching against the Detroit Tigers. I know that Williams took to the bump a few times in his career and I’ve seen smaller shots of the occasion, but never had I seen one so larger and with so much detail. I’m not sure where Frommer found the snapshot, but not only is it an important picture, but a beautiful one too.

The one gripe that I have with the photo selection is that Nomar Garciaparra is conspicuously missing from the honor roll of Red Sox greats. The aforementioned Williams, Johnny Pesky, Carl Yastrzemski, Fred Lynn, Jim Rice, Roger Clemens, Mo Vaughn, Pedro Martinez, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz all make an appearance in this tome, but not Nomar. And while it’s not a reason to not purchase the book, it struck me as a bit odd to not include a player that was instrumental in keeping the Red Sox afloat in the latter part of the 1990s.

Another of the books’ winning qualities is its size. Oversized and meant for the coffee table, “Remembering Fenway Park” has the luxury of laconically taking the reader through Boston’s American League’s representative’s history at a pace conducive to the nation’s past time. Not only can the reader absorb the stories of the men and women telling them, but thanks to the over sized photos, they can immerse themselves in the details of the past.

“Remembering Fenway Park: An Oral and Narrative History of the Home of the Boston Red Sox” is a terrific book and one that should be on the bookshelf of every Boston Red Sox fan.

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