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What a difference a little ballpark knowledge makes

by Kurt Smith of Ballpark E-Guides

It sounds blasphemous to think about it now, but there was a time when I wasn't much enamored with Fenway Park in Boston.

In my first two trips to America's oldest major league ballpark, in 1995 and in 2001, I experienced overpriced scalpers, overly crowded trains, obstructed views, uncomfortable seats, long waits at the concession stands, and seeing my Orioles get the snot beaten out of them (although that last one no longer hurts all that much).

Honestly, I made an effort to get it the second time around. I tried to appreciate the amount of history, the Green Monster, the shape of the place. But if you have to force it ...

Whenever asked about Fenway, I would metaphorically thump my chest and proudly inject the word "overrated" into the discussion, demonstrating my clear superiority over people who generally knew much more about baseball than I. Half the seats are in the outfield, I'd crow. You go for a hot dog and you miss two innings. There's no leg room. Chances are good you won't be able to see a portion of the field. There's no parking and you have to get on a packed train to get there. Go to Camden Yards, I'd tell people, and you might not think so highly of Fenway.

All true, in a technical sense, I suppose. Also the ramblings of a spoiled modern baseball fan. The whole point of the difficulties of Fenway, I'm now convinced, is to keep away that "casual" fan who thinks ballgames should be clambakes. Maybe some teams have to grudgingly tolerate them, but not the Red Sox.

It takes some people three games to get that.

Some time ago I was lying in bed one night, which is generally when the best ideas appear, just before I drift off to sleep and forget them all. I thought about my frequent trips to Camden Yards, how I had a favorite parking spot, a favorite hot dog vendor outside, and a favorite place to sit. I knew to get peanuts outside and where, and how to avoid the pre-game traffic. And it was, well, cool to know about that stuff. Girls dig it, right? (No.)

The light bulb went on. Wouldn't it be cool to write a book about this? To share the skinny on where to park, how to get tickets, where to sit, what to eat, everything one needs to know to get the most out of going to the ballgame and save money doing it?

To make a long story short, "writing a book" turned into "writing downloadable PDF-format guides" for major league ballparks. A year and a half later, I now run a website selling such guides.

For my birthday in April of last year, my wonderful wife Suzanne bought me tickets to a game at Fenway Park. Despite my past opinion of the place, I was very excited—because I could now take pictures and verify the information for the Fenway Park guide I had just written. (When my wife complained mildly about the price of the tickets, I wanted to scream, "Why didn't you read my guide?!?")

This time I was as prepared as a dedicated Boy Scout. We had decent seats and could see the whole field. We avoided the crowds on the train. I knew where to get a sausage outside. I signed up for a free soda at the designated driver's booth. I bought the cheaper but still-high-quality outside program. We stopped at a nearby farm market for cheaper munchies to bring in.

Granted, Fenway has had outstanding improvements of late. There are seats on top of the Green Monster (an idea that seems so obvious now), Yawkey Way is closed off on game nights for outside vendors and street performers, and a concourse has been added in right field that significantly reduces concession congestion.

But from the moment the wife and I arrived for the tour that morning through the crowd cheering the Red Sox victory, and my newly widened eyes saw the gate signs, the back of the scoreboard, the pennants, the championship flags from 1918 and 2004, and holy smoke, that huge green wall in left field, I fell in love with Fenway Park. I never wanted to leave the old girl. But I'd always be happy to share her with 38,000 Red Sox fans on any given day.

When I started writing guides to major league ballparks, I was hoping to share valuable information, not just the obvious but sly places to park and where to get the best hot dog outside. After one and a half years full of kick-myself-in-the-head moments from actually doing some research, I've decided that I want to know everything possible before I go to a ballpark for the first time.

For me, anyway, it turned out to be the difference between "not getting" and "getting" Fenway Park.

Or more correctly, the difference between pompous ignorance and life-affirming bliss.

NOTE: Kurt's Ballpark E-Guides are for sale here.