USA Today, April 26, 2007

Field of Dreams

Uncle Stevie takes the kids to Fenway Park.

By Steve Kluger


    When I first became an uncle, I knew
    instinctively that it was going to be up to me to
    educate my nieces and nephews on some of
    the more fundamental essentials that are
    inexplicably overlooked by most parents.They
    grew up wearing Red Sox bibs and onesies as
    infants, Red Sox t-shirts as toddlers, and Red
    Sox caps as kids. Six-year-old Noah’s had an
    alarmingly accurate fastball since he was one
    and a half, and Emily, at nine, can pull off an
    uncanny impersonation of Sox slugger Carlton
    Fisk’s legendary home run in Game Six of the
    1975 World Series. So aside from Noah’s
    disappointment in discovering that the Green
Monster doesn’t have teeth—an assessment not shared by a number of American
League batters—they’ve been well-prepared for their first trip to Fenway Park with
Uncle Stevie this summer.

And then tickets went on sale for the season.

● According to www.redsox.com, there was no such thing as three seats together for
the entire month of August.  A few pairs, maybe, and some outfield singles.

● Yankee games were completely sold out. Understandable. Not so evident was why
you couldn’t find anything for a midweek afternoon game against Tampa Frigging
Bay (unless maybe it was a giveaway event, such as Red Sox Toilet Seat Day).

● Tickets were plentiful only on broker/scalper web sites.  Of these, StubHub offered
the most remarkable deal of all:  standing room at $274 each—or about $90 more
than JetBlue was charging us to fly east from L.A. But wait: In addition, they were
selling strictly in pairs—which would have required the purchase of four instead of
three. There are mortgage payments in the tony suburb of Brookline that cost less
than that.

It’s no secret that we’ve moved beyond a time when a low-income father could spend
a Saturday afternoon in the bleachers with his son and not require a financial
planner first.  (In 1978, the tab at Dodger stadium would have been $4 for the tickets,
another $4 for the hot dogs and pop, and a buck for parking.  These days the pair of
seats runs $20, the hot dogs come with a loan application, and parking qualifies as a
Fortune 500 enterprise.)  We likewise know that Fenway Park houses one of the
game’s two most beloved teams, so of course availability is going to be scarcer.  
According to the Red Sox, 59% of Fenway’s seats belong to season ticket holders;
group sales also make a hefty dent in what’s left. The real spoilers, it seems, are the
brokers and re-sellers—some of them legal, most not. Like locusts chasing Pharaoh
across Egypt, they descend upon sporting arenas, Broadway theatres, concert halls,
and convention centers, devouring anything that looks like a ticket or somebody’s
first-born. This is how hapless baseball fans wind up paying $800 to watch the San
Diego Padres play the Minnesota Twins three months after both have been
mathematically eliminated.

Ron Bumgarner, Red Sox Vice President of Ticketing, says, “When we open up these
games at the box office for the initial on-sale, the majority of the folks near the front
of the line are scalpers and/or people paid by scalpers to spend the night.  Families
and true fans are simply unable to do that.”

They’re also unable to qualify for the seats reserved for the class of people who
once built—and sank—the
Titanic.  These would be the “premium” packages that
every ball club hopes to segregate from steerage, and which account for 9.5% of
Fenway Park’s total capacity of 33,871 (that’s a quarter-million premium tickets per
year).  Such bargains include seats on top of the Green Monster for anywhere from
$500 to $1,000 apiece (in the
outfield?) and a rare deal behind home plate for a
mere $275 per game―or $22,275 for the entire season.  Even the Astors would
have had to send their children to community college.  On scholarships.

There are four possible reasons for the legitimized gouging:  (1) rising salaries; (2)
escalating operating costs; (3) Fenway Park’s diminutive size, which entitles the Sox
to raise the face value of even their premium tickets more than most clubs do; and
(4) the idiot who talked them into paying $51.1 million just to
negotiate with pitcher
Daisuke Matsuzaka.  Ask your 5-year-old to do the math.

Look, I’ve loved the Red Sox heart and soul for most of my life, and nothing’s going
to turn me away from them. Besides, the same thing happens at Wrigley Field
and Camden Yards and Yankee Stadium and Miller Park.  And according to
The New
York Times
, Atlanta’s Turner Field—with enough irrelevant restaurants and shops to
qualify as a strip mall—already has a luxury level reserved for every fan who drives
a Lexus.

That’s Baseball 2007.  And it stinks.

Is there a solution?  There sure was for me and the kids.The minor league Pawtucket
Red Sox play at McCoy Stadium, just 45 minutes from Fenway. It holds 10,000
passionate fans, it reminds me of the early photos of the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Ebbets
Field, and three seats behind the plate cost me $33. Not even a “convenience fee.”  
We’re also close enough to the action so that Noah can say “Hi!” to the players, and
they can say “Hi!” right back. (When I explained to Emily that we had to change our
plans because they only let rich people into Fenway Park, she embraced the concept
of the minor leagues enthusiastically.  But I had to persuade Noah that we were
going to see “kindergarten Red Sox.”)

As for
my Red Sox?  Well, this is why I’ve got XM Satellite Radio. I know Fenway Park
so intimately that when I listen to a play-by-play, I can visualize it as though it were
happening right in front of me.  I don’t need to see it for myself any more.  Even if I
could.