By Andy Kirkaldy
Fenway Park didn’t look much different when I went there on July 7 for the first time in 26 years. Sure, under the new Boston Red Sox ownership the old ball yard is clean and shiny, and the signs — literally and figuratively — of corporate America are everywhere.
But one gets used to being bombarded with advertising, and logos of all sizes crammed into Fenway’s every nook and cranny have little impact on the essence of the House That Ruth Left.
There was the big green wall looming in left field, with rows of seats now helping nets protect Yawkey Way from falling baseballs. The expanse of brighter green outfield grass was punctuated by the big brown comma of infield dirt. The red and blue seats ran up under the stadium roofing. One red seat, the one that legend holds was struck by a mighty Ted Williams blow, sat alone in the sea of green right field bleachers. Vendors shouted that they had programs, ice cream or peanuts “hee-yah.”
Fenway’s biggest change visually is the 400 Club, an imposing wall of glass behind home plate holding luxury suites and press boxes that some allege has changed the wind currents, making home runs harder to swat. But it’s not really near the playing surface.
As dolled up and renovated as Fenway has been, the place feels much like it did when I watched Dick Stuart and Carl Yastrzemski play and Earl Wilson both pitch and homer in 1964; sat in awe when Jim Rice launched one over the Monster onto the Mass Pike in the late 1970s; and shook my head in disbelief the last time I went to a game there, when Rance Mulliniks drilled a Dennis Eckersley offering into the Sox bullpen on Opening Day 1983.
When you walk up the ramp and see the playing field, it’s still a brilliant, thrilling explosion of green and brown and baseball.
Probably the best thing was that my daughters — making their first visit not only to Fenway but also to any professional sporting event — apparently felt the same way. Along with the usual 38,000 or so fans, we sang along with “Sweet Caroline” and did the wave. They took dozens of pictures. And we clapped rhythmically with everyone else in the left field stands when the Sox rallied. I think we even started one surge of applause.
Afterward, Kaitlyn said she couldn’t stop smiling. Kiera said she had a good time even though the soda was overpriced. Good thing she’s too young for $7 Budweiser. Me, I’m just too cheap.
Strangely enough, one change probably helped them enjoy themselves — the sound system and the music, something one cannot appreciate on NESN.
I mean, I liked the late, great organist John Kiley as much as anyone. Kiley for decades played not only at Fenway but also at the old Boston Garden at Bruins’ games. But John was solidly old school: His idea of excitement was “Havah Nagilah.”
Now, Fenway lays down some grooves: “The Pirates of the Caribbean” sound track. Kanye West. U-2. The Proclaimers. Stuff only my daughters can name. The DJ also makes fun of opposing pitching changes, playing “Beat It” when the Sox knocked the Oakland As’ starter out or, when the As made one too many moves, “Who Can It Be Now?”
Plus, what you don’t learn from watching TV is that Sox batters have their own theme songs. Big Papi has several, all Latin techno-fusion. Jacoby “Dreamboat” Ellsbury gets Kevin Rudolf’s “Let it Rock,” and “Kryptonite” by 3 Doors Down greets Jason Varitek.
As for the game, we saw Josh Beckett throw well: His arm is a blur when he unleashes the heat. Jason Bay lofted one into the Monster seats, Dreamboat stole a base (according to the experts, it’s a toss-up whether he or Mike Lowell is better-looking) and Papi smoked a double.
A late Dustin Pedroia hit made it 5-2, and the lead was three runs heading to the ninth, meaning a save situation for burly and borderline maniacal Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon.
Then came his theme song and the night’s best musical moment: The lid really comes off Fenway when Papelbon bursts through the bullpen doors and the thumping bagpipe punk of the Dropkick Murphys’ “Shipping Up To Boston” starts shaking the joint.
Everybody stands and roars as he trots to the brown oasis on the infield grass. Nearly 40,000 fans clap in unison while he warms up. At home, another Toyota commercial fills the screen, but Fenway rocks. Papelbon’s easy save was almost anticlimactic.
One of Kaitlyn’s friends went to Fenway this past Sunday, and the Sox lost. She concluded we’re good luck, and is making the case to go back.
Hard to argue.