Uncle Stevie takes the kids to Fenway Park.
By Steve Kluger
April 26, 2007
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.