‘The Fenway Project’ Defines Red Sox Park as Irreplacable

Ever wonder what it would be like to be a beat writer for the Boston Red Sox?

Ever wanted to watch a baseball game from unique vantage points in Fenway Park, like inside the scoreboard wall in left field affectionately known as the Green Monster?

If you answered, yes, then you will enjoy reading The Fenway Project, a documentary record created by 64 baseball fans who share their passions for America’s pastime and a unique ballpark that writer John Updike lovingly called a “lyric little bandbox.”

On June 28, 2002, Bill Nowlin encouraged fellow members of the Society for American Baseball Research, SABR, who were in Boston for an annual convention, to go to Fenway Park to watch an interleague game between the Boston Red Sox and the Atlanta Braves and write down their experiences.

Nowlin, with assistance from co-author and co-editor Cecilia Tan, compiled these memories in The Fenway Project, a book published by Rounder, the media label that Nowlin co-founded in Cambridge, MA.

Credit for the original concept has to go to several San Diego Padres fans who wrote Facets of the Diamond a few years ago. However, credit Nowlin and his co-editor, Cecilia Tan for encouraging their SABRen to allow publication of their views in, around and about Fenway Park.

With a few exceptions, the 64 SABRen are not writers by trade. But this book is not intended to be judged by the Pulitzer committee. It is intended to memorialize what was and is great about Fenway Park, the Boston Red Sox and major league baseball.

Nowlin’s introduction provides the historical context of this Friday night interleague game at Fenway featuring two crafty veteran pitchers, John Burkett for Boston and Greg Maddux for Atlanta. Nowlin notes Maddux was one of several players in this game who are destined for the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, when they retire.

Besides Maddux, a lock for the Hall now that he has over 300 career wins, Atlanta lefty John Smoltz and outfielder Gary Sheffield played important roles that night. Smoltz closed out the ninth for his 26th save while Sheffield scored the winning run in a 4-2 Braves victory.

All three will get several first ballot Hall of Fame votes, as will their teammate, Chipper Jones, who played leftfield for the Braves and batted third, as will the third and fourth hitters in the Sox lineup, Nomar Garciaparra and Manny Ramirez.

The roll of likely future Hall of Famers does not end there. Rickey Henderson, among the greatest leadoff hitters of all time, pinch hit for the Sox, while Atlanta pitcher Tom Glavine and Boston Pedro Martinez, both bound for Cooperstown, were spectators like the members of SABR arrayed around Fenway on this particular Friday night in June.

Another reason why this game was ideal for Nowlin’s “Project” is that the stories are told by fans from all ages, a diversity that adds new perspectives and reinforces great baseball traditions. We see this clearly in the Question & Answer session with seven-year-old Ryan Saccoman by his father John.

After Ryan buys a snack of French fries, rather than the old-time favorites peanuts and cracker jack, John teaches Ryan about baseball history and its special lingo, evident when father and son chant, “Man-ny, Man-ny,” rooting for Ramirez to hit a bases loaded homer that Ryan
now knows is a “grand slam.”

Tan provides a fascinating look at a day in the life of a Red Sox beat writer. Her view from the press box also provides us a view into the thought process of the reporter and how a story takes shape once the game starts.

“After two inningsâÂ?¦Burkett was six up, six down, while Maddux, who got walloped with a line drive, gave up three hits in the same span and looked vulnerable. BurkettâÂ?¦had been a hot hand at the beginning of the year (7-0), but had since lost three straight. Would this be the game where he turned it all around?”

Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald was one of three beat writers on hand for the game. Tan tags along with Silverman and several more beat reporters – Bill Ballou, Worcester Telegram and Gazette, Mike Fine, Patriot Ledger, John Tomase, Lawrence Eagle Tribune and Albert Speier of the Boston Metro. Silverman gave Tan the best advice to any aspiring sports reporter working with a steno pad: always carry two pens, because you never know when the first one will run out.

Tan’s perspective from the press box is one of several places where SABR members were arrayed in and around Fenway Park for this particular midsummer game. Eric Enders learned what the game is like inside the Green Monster scoreboard, while F.X. Flinn saw how the action looks to the staff who run the electronic scoreboard in the centerfield bleachers. While Denis Rapp followed the game on a pub crawl from bar to bar in the Fenway area, Ken Carpenter tracked the action via his ESPN internet game cast.

These views offer unique angles and perspectives, and of these Enders report on the signatures found inside the 40 foot high monster is the best written and most insightful.

“For years it has been a tradition for players to come back to this secret room behind the big green wall and sign their names on the concrete. Of course all the names are signed in chalk, so they don’t last more than a few yearsâÂ?¦. There is Derek Lowe, who signed the wall on April 27, 2002, the day he pitched a no-hitter here. ‘Larry Walker’s in here, Jeff Bagwell’s in here,’ Rich (Maloney, scoreboard worker) says, pointing to names scrawled in white. “Tim Wakefield, Jeromy Burnitz, Mike Piazza.'”

These details are important ones to record about Fenway Park, one of the oldest still in operation in Major League Baseball. Fenway was built in 1912, and there has been talk of tearing it down in favor of a new park. However, the future for Fenway seems brighter today than in 2002 – the new Red Sox ownership has updated concessions and rest
room facilities and introduced seats on top of the Green Monster, the toughest ticket in Boston.

A story on a SABR fans view of a game from the Monster seats are enough reason for a sequel to The Fenway Project.

Why? It’s because baseball fans can’t get enough of the architectural charm of old ballparks. Baseball stadiums built in the past ten years, starting with Oriole Park at Camden Yards, have incorporated local history and unique architecture found at classic parks like Fenway.

The special allure that baseball has in the hearts and minds of its fans is evident in several essays, including one on former Boston Braves second baseman Sibby Sisti. Sisti, who threw out the first pitch for this interleague game in June 2002, is one of those interesting people with one of those quirky baseball names that fans of that era, or any era, never forget.

Though no one has created a Sibbi Sisti fan web site yet, it just might happen soon. Among the thousands of Red Sox fan web sites you can browse is the Sons of Sam Horn, at www.sonsofsamhorn.com, named for a slugging Sox first baseman from the late 1980s.

The interleague games were intended to revive great baseball traditions and feelings, like that of the era when the National League Braves and American League Red Sox called Boston home. The Fenway Project delves deeply into that past with a special section on the special Boston City Series.

From 1925 to 1953, the two Boston teams played each other at the end of the season in a series of contests that would decide the best of Boston. There were a few firsts associated with the City Series. In 1929, there was baseball on Sunday for the first time, and, in 1935, Babe Ruth, acquired by the Boston Braves from the New York Yankees, made his first appearance in a Braves uniform in a City Series game.

Alas, the Babe came to New York from the Red Sox in 1918, a move that many said cursed the franchise until it won the World Series last year in 2004. Years earlier however, in 1948, the Red Sox and Braves nearly competed for a World Series title. While the Braves won the National League pennant, the Red Sox tied the Cleveland Indians for the League Championship. A subway series in Boston in 1948 was dashed when Cleveland beat the Red Sox in a one-game playoff.

As one would expect from members of SABR, baseball history is found aplenty in The Fenway Project. We remember that the 1948 Braves pitching staff had the great Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain, and little else, prompting the old saw, “Spahn and Sain and pray for rain.” All of the scores in the City Series are recorded in the book, as are all the Atlanta-Boston scores since the first interleague game in August 1997.

Given that some SABRen are statistical junkies, Dick Dahl provides the results of his STRAT-O-MATIC baseball recreation of the Sox-Braves game on June 28, 2002. Using the same players in the lineup that played in that game, Dahl rolled the dice and looked up the corresponding results based on each player’s lifetime statistics to come up with three game results – Red Sox 3-0, Braves 2-0, then, Braves 1-0.

The Sox also lost on June 28, 2002, and, anyone who wonders if contemporary players don’t care about the game and think more about money would be pleased to read Jim Prime’s account of the postgame mood in the Red Sox clubhouse.

“After the game, the locker room was a somber place. The pall that had been cast by this loss was palpable. There was no music. No card games. No muffled laughter and no nods of greeting.”

Serious stuff, indeed, this baseball. But most of The Fenway Project is about the joy of the game, and is why it deserves at least nine innings worth of your summer reading time.

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