Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Thank you for coming to Fenway? Don’t mention it.

I am a baseball fan by both baptism and desire – much my favorite sport. And the Red Sox, even after watching them through so many years that were full of annoyance, frustration, rage, apathy, irrational expectation, despair, disappointment, exuberance, and, on occasion stark ravin’ joy, are much my favorite team.

While I have been watching (or, as was often the case in my early years of fandom, when weekday games weren’t televised, listening to) the Olde Towne Team since the late 1950’s, I will actually pinpoint the day when I truly became an anointed Red Sox fan. That was Friday, July 22, 1960, when I saw my first game at Fenway.

The Red Sox won, 6-4, and Ted Williams hit a home run.

So did Jimmy Piersall, who by then was no longer playing for the Sox.

The attendance – and I did have to look this part up – was nearly 30,000. Not bad, given that Fenway only held about 33,000 at the time, and given that the Sox were having what was so typical of my early years watching them: a lousy year.

They ended up in seventh place out of the eight teams in the American League, with a .422 record that is pretty much how they’re going to end this fiasco of a year.

As Red Sox fans, of course, we knew that we were going to pay the price of last year’s entirely implausible and stunningly enjoyable season, that culminated in an entirely implausible and stunningly enjoyable – at least if you’re a New Englander – World Series win.

In any case, this year ain’t nothing I haven’t seen before.

One difference now, of course, is the outrageous ticket prices – imagine: $28 to sit in the bleachers! That first game against Cleveland, which may have cost my father seventy-five cents per kid for a bleacher seat, was a lot more fun, even if the bleachers in those days didn’t have backs.

Another difference now, of course, is the outrageous salaries that ball players make. Clay Bucholz, who pitched the game – and why do I even bother to say lost - the game I saw the other night is making $7.7 million this year. Even if he pulls his socks up over the next few weeks, he will likely end up making about $1 million per win. Now that’s what I call a day’s pay for a day’s work. Harrumph.

While the game the other evening was dreadful, it was still, I must admit enjoyable. But that’s because I absolutely love taking myself out to the ballgame, taking myself out to the crowd. Buy me some peanuts and crackerjacks? Well, I might not go so far as to say that I don’t care if I never get back, but watching a game at Fenway, on a lovely summer’s evening, after walking from home to Fenway Park is, in fact, a little bit of heaven.

Even though the Red Sox are having a near-epic fail of a season, they continue to draw pretty good crowds.

This is, perhaps, because going to a game at Fenway Park is a bit of a sentimental journey for a lot of folks. And because New England, generally at odds with the rest of the country when it comes to things cultural, societal, and sporting – bring on gay marriage, but NASCAR? huh? – is perhaps the last holdout of baseball fandom.

Maybe it’s because so many of us went to parochial school, we’re inured to boredom. Maybe it’s because the Red Sox play to the attributes of our dominant ethnic groups: flinty Yankees (no, not the baseball Yankees, those pinstriped posers – Yankee New Englanders) who can put up with anything; and members of the Irish diaspora who understand full well that they are not worthy of anything, and are thus overly suspicious of the good years, and overly accepting of the bad years as their due. Maybe it’s because winter is so long, and summer is so short, and baseball = summer. (Or course, it also equals sleeting gray days in April and, if you’re lucky enough to make it to the postseason, which “we” most certainly will not this year, sleeting gray days in October.)

Ah, baseball.

Last week’s game was the third I’ve attended this season (fourth, if you count the Red Sox-Rangers game I saw while in Texas this May), and, as I’ve said, I had a good time.

Sure, I was among the Fenway faithful who left after the Red Sox, having blown a lead in the fifth, did nothing to indicate that they had anything left in them after the seventh. So we had to sing Sweet Caroline, the Red Sox anthem played before the bottom of the eighth, while walking down the street behind the Green Monster.

The words don’t ring quite true this season.

“Good times never seemed so good”?

Okay, it’s not exactly “bad times never seemed so bad.” That would be the 2012 season, when the team, which pre-season had been declared The Greatest Team in Baseball Since the 1927 Yankees, and maybe even The Greatest Team in Baseball EVER, went into such a  nosedive that you had to suspect that they were on a suicide mission.

But while I had a good time at last week’s game, it wasn’t exactly a good game.

The Red Sox, of course, continue to count on people having a good time whether or not the game is good or awful.

So they’re curious to learn about how we felt about the overall experience, as I learned when I received an e-mail from the team asking me to fill in an online survey on that experience.

Which I was happy to do, even though I was offered nothing, zip, nada, in return. You’d think that they could have taken all the tickets they’ve yet to sell –and there remain plenty – and put the names of everyone who answered the survey in a cap and raffled off those tickets. (Well, maybe not all the tickets they have left. If the games aren’t sold out already, I can understand why the Red Sox would believe that someone might be interested in the final three games of this abysmal season. The Red Sox are playing the Yankees, and this could turn out to be a spoiler series, in which the Red Sox can destroy whatever chance the Yankees have for a Wild Card spot. And it will be the last time anyone at Fenway will get the chance to see retiring great Derek Jeter play. So they don’t need to put those games in the kitty.)

As for the other games…

I suspect that even the games against the currently division-leading Baltimore Orioles won’t sell out.

But for free, I’d even be willing to take an obstructed view seat.

The online survey, alas, promised nothing, but as a good and loyal marketer, I filled it in anyway.

First, they asked how big a Red Sox fan I am.

Hey, I’m avid enough.

I don’t go to all that many games in person, but I watch a bit of most games on TV (or, failing that, check the scores to see what happened).

The survey mostly focused on the Fenway Park experience which, as it turns out, has nothing whatsoever to do with the game, and everything to do whether you enjoyed Wally the Green Monster, buying your hot dog, and singing Sweet Caroline.

Nonetheless, I couldn’t help answering a couple of questions as if I were being asked about the actual game.

Thus, I said that my most recent visit to Fenway fully met my expectations, given that my expectation was that Bucholz would last four or five innings before blowing up (he went four), and that Big Papi would hit a home run (which he did).

I was also asked to compare the overall Red Sox experience to the experience of attending a Celtics, Bruins, Patriots, or Revolution (soccer) game, and to which represented the best value.

Since I will barely follow the Celtics now that my husband has died, and since the only way I’d go to a Patriots game is if I were helicoptered down to Gillette Stadium and got to sit in Bob Kraft, the owner’s, private box, there’s nothing to compare things to.

I have been following the Bruins pretty closely, and hockey is my number two, but it’s been years since I saw a game up close and personal.

As for the Revs, I have seen them a few times, and it has been an enjoyable experience but, what can I say? Soccer is not baseball. And I can’t walk to Foxboro to see them play.

In any case, because I actually like baseball, going to a Red Sox game – W or L – provides the best experience and the best value.

Man, these questions seem designed for people who really don’t care about the game, but who consider it just another experience.

What motivated me to attend this event?

How come the answer can’t be that I like baseball, and I’m a Red Sox fan.

Which weren’t on the pick list.

No, the Sox wanted to know about my parking experience (NA), my concession experience, my overall in-game entertainment experience, my between-inning entertainment experience, my post-game entertainment experience (sorry, I left too soon to hear Love That Dirty Water and Tessie).

And they wanted to know whether I follow the Red Sox on Twitter, on FB, on Pinterest, on Instagram, on Vine…

No, I’m one of those sorry-ass old schoolers who follow them on boston.com, on redsox.com (for the box scores, not the Red Sox account), on ESPN, via MLB, and, on occasion, on one of the discussion boards.

I’m a bit bummed that the Red Sox are having such a lousy year, but watching baseball’s still fun. And it could be a lot worse: I could be a Cubs fan.


P.S. When I filled out the demographic detail on the survey, I really didn’t want to check Divorced/Separated/Widowed.

1 comment:

valerie said...

Great post -- funny and eye opening. Talk about clueless marketing. And as for checking off that box? It is, in some ways, as na as your parking experience because you are still married in your heart. Have a great day and thanks again for a nice start to so many of my days. (and I am far from alone on that one. ha)