During my college years, I spent many a night across the border at Ye Olde Olympic Stadium, a generally antiseptic environment where watching a baseball game often denigrated into an experience of the surreal. Three dollar seats, thousands of which went uninhabited, were the ultimate draw, not to mention that new-fangled Iced brewed Labatt’s.
The Expos were good back then, or least in existence, and I found myself often riveted by them on a daily basis, learning to appreciate Pedro Martinez years before he arrived in Boston, erroneously believing that Mike Lansing was baseball’s best second baseman. But going to the games was just ... well, weird for someone who grew up spending summer evenings at cramped Fenway Park. The French, the dome, the deafening din of empty seat backs clapping. It was baseball for sure, but it was baseball as you’d imagine they’d play it one day on the third moon of Bespin.
Apropos of nothing, I remember vividly watching incredulously one night as a car drove from the bullpen, across center field, and onto home plate in between innings, part of a local dealership promotion. For some reason, that sealed it for me. This was the game played in an environment that no other place would ever challenge, a cavernous dump that drew me in for its sheer oddity. I found myself leaving most evenings, shaking my head, "[Insert peculiarity here] would never happen at Fenway."
This all came back to me last night as I watched the Red Sox try, yet again, to force NASCAR down our throats with an embarrassing display of its Roush Fenway racing team, which will make its way to Loudon this weekend. NESN went all out, cutting Nick Cafardo's pregame notebook short (he was only delivering, you know, baseball news) in order to broadcast the pregame ceremony that about 11 folks in the park seemed to give a damn about. After Jonathan Papelbon got the final out, the camera immediately shifted to John Henry's box seats for the reaction of the Roush folks, yet another nauseating moment of self cross-promotion that is the norm these days over on Yawkey.
Of course, there was also a car on the field and a huge checkered flag covering the wall in left with the numbers of the drivers I guess you're supposed to care about. I can't imagine anyone leaving Fenway with a Roush Fenway T-shirt in tow, sort of like those who buy a Stuart Scott catchphrase T-shirt at Disney World. One has nothing to do with the other, except blatant corporate synergy. Congratulations if you're sucker enough to fall for it.
For two nights this week I just wanted to watch a baseball game, and was instead greeted by an endless stream of "Praise Remy" and "Watch Car Racing" hammerings. It's gotten to the point where you can't wait for the Red Sox to be on the road, where there's less chance of the Sox/NESN/Dunkin' Donuts using the sport as a means to delivering their message of monetary importance. And while we're on the subject, I loved the virtual neon "Sox Appeal" billboard behind home plate Monday night. Why would I want my eye to divert to the plate when I now know that load of garbage is coming back later this summer?
That would never happen at Fenway…
It is what it is, of course. Fenway Park, for all the praise heaped upon it as an ancient jewel in a sea of cookie-cutter and retro stadiums, is in reality still more amusement park than ballyard of yore these days. That's fine to a certain extent. But when all the peripheral stuff gets in the way of enjoying a baseball game, it reaches the point of intrusion, the feeling of being taken advantage of by these corporations. All because you dared to just enjoy nine innings.
This is all part of the territory. If you want to enjoy a winner year-in, year-out, then you're going to have to endure those who also want to attach themselves to a winner. The Jordan's Furnitures, the NASCARs, the (ahem) "alternative" hats are all along for the ride. No problem. Plenty of room on board.
But when those same companies force you to listen to them while you're just trying to watch Josh Beckett paint the corners, with little-to-no commentary from the booth because the particulars are busy helping to shill Carl Edwards and Co., that's an issue. When you're sitting in your tight grandstand quarters listening to an "alternative" hat on the cell phone, asking what the score is, and producing his or her Red Sox Nation card to prove one's fandom, that's a problem. When you're embarrassed to take your kid to a game on the road for fear of the derision you're due to receive from the hometown fans because of the group of drunken f-bombing fans in your section doing their best to speak for all Red Sox fans, that's a concern.
Yes, Fenway is a happier place these days, but let's not fall for the folly that it was a depressing landscape prior to 2002. It was just different. Remember when it was a big deal that the team decided to mix in rock music with the organ? John Fogerty blared over the loudspeakers, and we debated its value.
Now, a Ford Fusion roams the warning track and we nary bat an eye.
We are reaching a saturation point here. Every night is an event, another opportunity for the Red Sox, NESN, and their revenue partners to sell us something else. I understand the need. But when it gets in the way of my enjoyment, that's when I have a problem. And let's be real here, this was not a good week as far as that is concerned. Not to get all "In my day…" on you, but things have gotten worse, not better.
Then again, I remember paying $3 for a seat to watch a baseball team that played in Montreal. I'm not quite sure how I can express that sentiment without sounding old.