Fenway is the most written about ballpark in the world. Try as I may to be semi-original, I doubt there’s anything I can say here that hasn’t already been written by some New England-based ink-stained wretch, wannabe writer, baseball philosopher or award-winning novelist.
Fenway Park is Baseball’s Mecca. No other in-park experience is as pure as Fenway’s. Boston Red Sox fans, while no longer the tortured soles they once were, are still the most zealous in baseball. The hot dogs are served in the right type of bun. The new video boards are focused solely on baseball information during the play. And the seats are on top of the field putting you in the game.
What other park has as many named areas in the field of play? There’s the Triangle in centerfield. The Green Monster dominating left. And BOTH foul poles are named: The Pesky Pole in right (the shortest porch in MLB, named after legendary light-hitting infielder Johnny Pesky) and the Fisk pole in left (home to the famous 1975 Game 6 home run that Pudge willed fair).
There are flaws. The seats are tiny. The concessions are cramped. The tickets are expensive. The good seats are too few. Parking is a nightmare. And the weather often sucks. Still, I look forward to going to Fenway Park more than any other venue in baseball, except maybe one.
Exterior aesthetics 9/10; Interior & Concourse Aesthetics 4/10; Sightlines & seating 4/10; Amenities & entertainment 5/10; Flow 1/5; Celebrating history 5/5; Scoreboards 5/5; Grand entrance 5/5; Sense of place 10/10; WOW Factor 30/30. Total 78 points divided by 2 for 39.
It’s always hard to compare a jewel box park with the modern ones. Fenway had to squeeze its park onto 9 acres of irregularly shaped land. The Braves had 74 acres to work with. But on that small footprint, the Red Sox squeezed a lot of good.
- The look of the park is the most iconic in North American sports. No other stadium owns a color like Fenway owns Monster Green. The red seats and harsh angles create a look that can’t be copied.
- The infield seats are among the best seats in baseball. Close to the action thanks to very little foul territory, you feel like you’re legitimately part of the game.
- They found a creative way to overcome the lack of concession space along the first base line. Opening up Yawkey Way (or Jersey Way as we now must call it) allowed the Red Sox to put concessions on the OUTSIDE of the stadium and create a festive game day atmosphere (while collecting revenue) BEFORE a fan even entered the stadium proper. This added 25,000 square feet of space and may well be the coolest concession area. It makes for one of the best Grand Entrances in MLB.
- The renovations have been spectacular. If you weren’t in the park before they were completed, you’d swear they’ve been there the whole time. From the two upper level clubs, the videoboards, the patio seating, the Green Monster seating, the new concessions, the dugout club, and even the kids’ area, everything feels in harmony with the overall park
- While other parks honor the history of the game, this place IS history of the game. You’re sitting in a stadium that opened the day the Titanic sunk. It’s home to Game 8 of the 1912 Series; Ted Williams’ home run in the 1946 All-Star Game; Carlton Fisk’s 1975 Game 6 walk-off home run; Bucky Bleeping Dent; Ted Williams returning for the 1999 All-Star Game; Varitek smacking A-Rod; Dave Roberts’ stolen base; Big Papi’s game-tying grand slam in the 2013 ALCS, etc.
- The “upper deck” seats are on top of the action and provide a nice view. Fenway is perhaps the only park that rewards height.
- The exterior brick architecture has flare reflective of its time and probably wouldn’t be copied today.
- The field is sunk, so the exterior structure doesn’t overwhelm the neighborhood
- The signage around the park adds to the old-timey feel
- The seats were built for the smaller people of 1912. They are the tightest in baseball and can be outright uncomfortable for larger fans.
- The seats down the right field line are awful. They do NOT angle toward the infield and when you contort your neck to watch the pitcher and hitter, you’re looking right into the setting sun. You’ll see a lot of fans doing the “Fenway salute” with their left hand flat above their eyes shielding the blinding light.
- Forget walking the concessions 360-degrees. You’re lucky to get base to base. Fenway hallways change elevation and/or just dead end in so many different places. It takes several visits to know the route well enough to do it without aid of the signage. And as much as they’ve been able to make things better in certain spaces, the concession areas are still the most cramped in the game.
- The loge seats aren’t elevated enough from the aisle separating the loge from the box seats, so the people walking the aisle between will block the view of those in the first two or three rows of the loge
- Old-timey stadiums bring old-timey issues like support posts that can potentially obstruct a few for those in the Grandstand seats
- A rat is not an uncommon sight
Despite its age, the park is better than many on its own merits. I’m thrilled that Boston Red Sox ownership eschewed the idea of a New Fenway and instead spent the money to update their original jewel.
THE FOOD 8/10
Many ballpark ratings deride the Red Sox for a relatively small food selection, and for not embracing local eateries to the extent that other ballparks have. Given the lack of kitchen space, I think they do a good job in this area. And what they may lack in choice, they often make up for in quality.
The Fenway Frank may be the most discussed concession in all of North American sport. I think it’s the near perfect hot hog. Served on a New England-style roll (with the slot on top instead of on the side), the Kayem-made frank has just the right amount of flavor. A little mustard and maybe some onions are all you need.
Just as Forrest Gump does shrimp, Fenway Park, New England’s pre-eminent facility, does lobster. You can get a Yankee Lobster Co lobster roll, lobster BLT, lobster poutine (fries, lobster bisque, lobster and cheese curds), lobster mac and cheese, and a lobster melt. There’s also a fish shack selling other surf options.
Regina’s serves the pizza. Tasty Burger offer burgers. Dunkin Donuts the coffee. On Jersey Way, there’s a Taste of Boston stand offering rotating local delights. You can also get classic foods like the Savenor’s Tri-tip sirloin sandwich, pot roast sandwich, and a turkey gobbler (Thanksgiving on a bun). There’s a little International flare on Jersey Street with Luis Tiant’s Cuban sandwiches. The Sam Adams deck in right offers several good things including fish tacos and chorizo croquettes. The King’s Hawaiian stand offers a good pulled pork. A breakfast burger is sold and makes sense on day games. And “standard” ballpark fare is also available like roast beef sandwiches, sausages, cookie dough, fried dough, and chicken sandwiches.
I am also going to include the sausage carts lined up and down Landsdowne in this review. A long-time staple of the Fenway experience, these guys sell great Italian sausages smothered in peppers and onions for a perfect pre-game nosh. The Sausage Guy, with his almost NSFW logo, has been my long-time go-to.
My personal fave is the Legal Sea Food’s New England clam chowder. Perfect on one of those chilly Boston nights. The same stuff served at Presidential Inaugurations is brought to your seat by a Fenway vendor. That’s democracy!
The beer selection at Fenway is solid but not as deep as in other ballparks. And it’s pricy!
Sam Adams is the official beer of the Red Sox and offers their lineup to thirsty fans including the New England IPA and the Pennant Pils which is a pilsner with added mint and strawberry (i.e. ingredients that are Fenway green and Red Sox red). Lord Hobo offers some of their craft beer in cans. Local brews from Wachusett, Harpoon, and Narragansett are available, and you can find Guinness from several stands.
THE NEIGHBORHOOD 10/10
The area around the ballpark is among the best in sports even with all the post-pandemic closures.
Hungry? Within sight of the ballpark you can find Italian sandwiches, Greek souvlaki, southern BBQ, Japanese izakaya, and Singapore noodles amidst brasseries, burger joints, taquerias, oyster bars, and clam shacks.
Thirsty? There must be a dozen worthy watering holes (many of whom also offer decent grub). The Cask & Flagon is the most famous, but there are so many (better) others: The Bleacher Bar (where you can actually see the field), Boston Beer Works, Landsdowne Pub, Cornwall’s, a Yard House, Game On! and Cheeky Monkey Brewing Co. Then there’s all the great places in nearby Back Bay including Bukowski’s and McGreevy’s.
Being a baseball shrine, Fenway also attracts a lot of baseball-themed shops for memorabilia or Red Sox gear. So if you bring the kids, you can get into the vibe beforehand without stepping into a bar.
And it’s legitimately hopping post-game as well. On weekend nights, you see the young partiers mixed in with ball fans of all ages all out for a ripping good time be it at a live music event, a dueling piano bar, a traditional club, a packed bar, or a cozy-ish pub. Fun is there for those who want it.
Treat Fenway like a vacation, and don’t worry about it for a day. Tickets, especially the coveted good ones, are expensive; not quite Yankee Stadium, but still. Parking? Oof. Concessions? Yikes. Merchandise? How much? The Fenway experience will cost a pretty shekel, but many of the better things in life don’t come cheap.
If you have the option, don’t even think about driving. Boston streets are confusing, traffic is nuts (not Big Dig nuts, but still nuts), and parking is pricy. Being a college town, the public transit system in Boston is good. The subway is the superior option. The Kenmore green line T-stop is close and assuming you don’t have an extra innings game stretching well into the night, it’s your best bet (The T stops running earlier than in other markets). The Commuter Rail network is fairly extensive if coming from the burbs. Bus service isn’t bad either.
I’ve had a greater percentage of “hoodie games” (i.e. needing a warm fleece with a hood for protection against the cold, the wet or both) here in Boston than anywhere else.
This is one of two parks that got a “better than perfect” score here. My scoring system, my rules.
It’s the purest baseball vibe in the game. Even though the fan base isn’t nearly as fatalistic thanks to 4 World Series Championships after an 86-year drought, there’s no better place for the die hard baseball fan, even as the place has become a little more corporate. If you are lucky enough to sit beside a semi-friendly New Englander (there are a few), you may have some of the best baseball conversations you’ll ever have.
Hearing the familiar refrain of The Standells’ “Dirty Water” after a win (especially a walk off) is great. Hearing The Dropkick Murphy’s “Tessie” as you’re leaving the stadium brings chills. The singing of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” in the 8th, is twee but still kinda fun.
At no park will the fans self-start better than Fenway. At no park do the scoreboard operators make it easier for the more intense fan to know exactly what’s going on. (I love how they flash how a play was scored for those keeping book.)
As a fan interested in seeing all the parks, ask yourself, “Which one do I look forward to the most?” Fenway Park has got to be on a very, very shortlist.
It’s everything you want a baseball experience to feel like. It’s a feeling that sticks with you long after you’ve paid the credit card bill and once the crick in your back heals up after sitting in those seats. For all the romance and cliched waxing that Fenway gets, it’s earned. It’s baseball nirvana.
OTHER FUN THINGS TO DO
Three fun Boston eateries:
- Neptune’s Lobster Roll (North End. Acclaimed as home of the best lobster roll in town.)
- Saltie Girl (Back Bay. Tiny, always packed seafood place.)
- Pizzeria Regina (North End. The original pizzeria of this local institution offers a way better version of its pies than you’ll get in food courts or the ballpark)
Three places to imbibe before the game:
- Boston Beer Works (There’s nothing more quintessentially Boston than a blueberry ale from here.)
- Cheeky Monkey Brewing Co. (Fresh beer brewed in house in a nice space a fly ball away)
- Bukowski Tavern (A ten-minute walk from the park in Back Bay. Dive bar with a strong beer list)
One bar in the area worth hitting:
The Fours (North End. Close to the arena. Once named the best sports bar in America. Good memorabilia in a classy-looking place.)
Three craft breweries in the area worthy of your time:
- Tree House Brewing (Charlton, MA. About one hour west of Fenway is arguably America’s hottest brewery churning out best-in-the-world hazy IPAs. Prepare for a line. If they ever served at Fenway, I’d move to New England.)
- Trillium Brewing (Seaport District. While there’s a smaller taproom less than half a mile west of the ballpark, the Fort Point location is more fun.)
- Harpoon (Seaport District. Less than a mile from Trillium, Harpoon offers a nice tour and has a taproom perfect for day drinking.)
Three fun tourist attractions in the area:
- Freedom Trail (Easily the “must do” on a nice day in Boston as it takes you to many of the top sights including Fanheuil Hall, Paul Revere House, Copp’s Hill Burying Ground and Bunker Hill Monument. Walk and see American history come to life)
- The Sports Museum (TD Garden. Housed in the actual arena, it’s a good museum for one of America’s best sports towns)
- John F Kennedy Presidential Museum (Dorchester. I.M. Pei designed Museum and library commemorating the 35th president)
Fenway bills itself as “America’s Most Beloved Ballpark”. And after a visit, assuming you have decent seats, you very well may be agreeing with that sentiment. With an unparalleled baseball vibe and a reverence for the game, it’s truly a bucket list ballpark for any true baseball fan. While it has its limitations and flaws and only scores as the 5th best park, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more memorable place to watch a game.