One of my earliest memories of Fenway is sitting with a group of kids, so it was probably a cub scout outing. I remember a time, and this might have been it, when we went with our scout leader and he went to the gate and talked to the guy, and maybe he slipped the guy some money, I don’t know, but I remember the guy opened the gate and let us in. I can see how he did it, for that scout leader had that kind of charm. I remember thinking at the time that it would be cool to be part of the adult world that knew how to do stuff like that. Unfortunately, though I have been an adult for some time, I have never acquired those particular talents.

Anyway, what I remember is that we were chanting “We want Ted,” which shows how little we (or at least I) understood about the game. And then when Ted was announced, we went crazy cheering, thinking that somehow our entreaties had been heard. This story makes little sense to me, for if I understood that little about baseball, then what the hell was I doing at the park? I don’t recall being particularly bored, but it would certainly be boring to sit there with no clue about what was going on. I am at a loss to explain it.

On another occasion, I remember being with my brother Bruce. For some reason we were sitting way out in right field. This makes no sense because usually we went to the games with tickets from my father’s business, and that’s not where the seats were. Anyway, Roger Maris was playing right field, and the fielder plays very close to the fans at Fenway. For some reason, this guy with a very loud voice behind us was razzing Maris. I remember that he was at the time playing for Kansas City (then called the Kansas City Athletics). I looked this up, and he played for them during the 1958 and 1959 seasons, so that is when this had to be. What I remember is that Maris got pissed off at this guy and turned and gave him the finger, and since I was directly in the line of fire, I got the finger from him too. I think I found it a bit jarring, because baseball players are not supposed to do that kind of stuff, so it was pretty disillusioning for a 12 year old, which is probably why I remember it.

I grew up in the Boston area, and was a fan of the Sox from the get-go. How this later saved my life will be explained in another post. These were not great years for the Sox. In 1946, the year I was born, they lost the seventh game of the World Series, a feat they would repeat in 1967, the year I left Boston pretty much for good. In between, they were contenders only in 1949, as described in David Halberstam’s book, Summer of ‘49, which is really good. That year, as a three-year old, I was not very cognizant of their travails. My prime baseball years, like 8 to 15, the years 1954-1961, they sucked, though that is not a word we had then, but if we had it, it would have been fair to say they sucked. They did have Ted, however, and I may have to devote a post to him, because he was always there during those years, and he was pretty incredible. There is a good book about him, too, by Leigh Montville, called Ted Williams: The Biography of an American Hero. So I will make a note for another post about Ted.

Anyway, my father worked for this small bank in Watertown, and they had season tickets to the Sox, and since Sox tickets were not in great demand in those days, we got to go a lot. In fact, these were just about the best seats in the park, which I think I realized at the time. They have stuck a lot of seats onto the old Fenway in recent years, so it is a little hard to describe where these seats were. There was no upper deck behind home plate, just a roof that jutted out quite a bit. And hanging down from the roof were two rows of seats that were called the Skyview Seats. The announcers called the game from up there, and the sportswriters were there, and us when we got to go. Those were very cool seats.

All this came to an end in the early sixties when my father’s bank got rid of their Sox tickets and got Bruins tickets instead. They thought this was the smart move, as the early sixties were great years for the Bruins. But the Impossible Dream year of 1967, when the Sox again lost the seventh game of the World Series, revived interest, and a lot of people wanted to go the ball game. So after I left Boston, I came back to visit my parents periodically, but I had to buy tickets like any other regular person, and on occasion I did, so we’ll have another post about that.

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I went to a game in Chicago just a few weeks ago. For a million dollars, I could not tell you the name of the park. I would refer to it as “the field where the White Sox play” or even, “the stadium they built when they tore down Comiskey Park. You would think that if I could remember a word like “Comiskey” that I could remember a word like “U.S. Cellular,” but you would be mistaken.

So please be patient while I digress with a rant on the subject of stupid park names. I guess you have to start with stupid corporate names. I used to have an insurance policy with Northwestern National Life Insurance Company. A pretty boring name, but also pretty honest and straightforward, which is what you want with insurance. Then I got a letter saying that Northwestern National etc. had become Reliastar. Reliastar! Please. Is this modern? Sexy? Inspiring? I ought to cancel my policy.

I don’t know when parks began to have corporate names. I suppose corporations found it to be a good investment in cheap advertising. Like when they banned cigarette advertising and a car race became the Camel 500 or something. Similarly, every time a person says “Let’s go out and watch a game at U.S. Cellular field,” it is good advertising, and may encourage someone to go out and buy a U.S. Cellular. I’m not sure what that is, but just talking about it makes me want one.

When I discussed the Baseball Project with my friend Ian, he immediately demonstrated his knowledge of the parks, which was pretty impressive. He said something like, “I kind of like Safeco, but AT&T is really spectacular, though the outlook is even better at PNC.” If you had overheard this conversation, you would have thought he was giving me stock tips. Even though I had been to two of those parks, I needed a translation before I could tell what teams he was talking about.

I suppose I am being obtuse and it really wouldn’t be hard to store that stuff. But it is hard. I think age has something to do with it. A couple of years ago I took some courses in Spanish, and I swear I remember the French I learned 40 years ago better than the Spanish I learned 4 years ago. But it also has to do with my resistance to this phenomenon. I have nothing against giant corporations, and they are perfectly free to have stupid names. I just resist those stupid names being attached to parks.

Tiger Stadium. There’s a great name for you. Comerica Park? Give me a break (and maybe cancel my policy, or close my account, or switch my cell phone plan, whichever it may be). I don’t mind some guy wanting to be memorialized by being associated with the park. Shea Stadium. Not bad. Even, as earlier mentioned, Comiskey Park. Wrigley Field. Now that’s a borderline case. I have always assumed we were memorializing Mr. Wrigley and not his brand. In the spirit of stupid names, I’m a little surprised they have not renamed that one “Chew Wrigley Gum Park.” At least that would be more straightforward.

But all this is moot (or as my students like to say, mute) because I am not on a quest to go to all the parks anyway. Recall that the rule that governs the Burnham Baseball Project is that Burnham does not have to go to every park; he only has to go to see every team playing at home. So if he had seen the White Sox play at Comiskey, that would count. He could without the slightest guilt move Chicago into the “Ballparks Visited” column. Though in the interest of accuracy, he should perhaps change those headings from “Ballparks Visited” and “Ballparks Yet to See” to “Teams Visited” and “Teams Yet to See.” I can blame my wife for this, as she set up the blog for me, but she probably didn’t know the rules when she did it, so she is excused.

Anyway, my rant about stupid park names has used up all my space (not literally, of course, but another of my arbitrary rules is that 500 words counts as a post, so I can call it quits at that point), so I am going to have to retitle this one Chicago White Sox I (that is the Roman numeral I and not the capital letter I) and tell you about my visit to The Park Where the White Sox Play in another post, to be cleverly entitled Chicago White Sox II.

Oh no, my reader (at the moment I think that means my wife, if I have not lost her attention already) groans, not someone else who is going to rhapsodize about the green cathedral in Boston.

Not exactly. I have to start with Fenway because it is where my baseball experience began. In fact, I am pretty sure I didn’t attend another park for the first 22 years of my life, and I grew up going to Fenway.

My earliest memory is not of the park itself, but of finding the park. A child of the depression, my father appreciated the value of a dollar. In fact, I think the only time he gave me wordly advice was when he told me, “Buy your peanuts outside the park and bring them in.” Actually this is good advice. He was probably not the only one privy to this information, however. I recall a few years later the park being surrounded by vendors of grilled sausages. These were unbelievably good, and the diversion of sales to food outside the park no doubt caused the quality of food served inside the park to become more competitive. Anyway, we will have more to say about park food later. Right now we are talking about getting to the park.

In order to save money, my father parked some distance away, I believe on Commonwealth Avenue. This was a handsome, wide boulevard, quite a contrast to what was to follow. I had little sense of Boston geography then, and little more today, so what happened then was totally bewildering. My father led me (and this was not easy, as his step was brisk and he did not believe in holding hands) through a labyrinth of back alleys. I recall that some were literally paved with cobblestones, probably dating them to the 18th century. Other of the faithful would join us from a confluence of alleys, like the rabble rising to join arms against the foe in some inspiring movie, the small rivulets becoming a mighty river of fans. Eventually we would emerge into a wider street and there, spread before us, was the park (more often referred to as “the pahk”).

While the fact that that journey always ended at the park never ceased to amaze me, the next part of the visit never ceased to inspire me. That is when you would emerge from the maze of steel and concrete in the bowels of the park to see the green field spread before you. That sight always takes my breath away. There is nothing as green as the green of a baseball field. Well, maybe Hempstead Heath in that Antonioni movie Blow-up. I read somewhere that to make it so green, however, he had it painted. Since that doesn’t count, we can safely say that there is nothing as green as the green of a baseball field.

Since we will have more to say about Fenway in another post, this one will be titled Fenway I.

This project was not inspired by seeing the movie Julie/Julia (though perhaps the blog was – more on that anon). Nor was it inspired by reading about people who plan a summer of zipping around the country to attend a baseball game in every park. That requires far too much planning, not to mention time and money.

It came about a few years ago when, looking at the baseball standings, I realized that I had seen games in close to half of the major league parks. I have done a fair amount of traveling around the country, and one thing I did in the course of those travels was to attend a ball game. I then thought that if I could see games in that many cities without even trying, I could see games in all the rest with a more devoted effort.

And so I have set about to do that. The Burnham Baseball Project will have me attend a game in every ballpark. Note, however, that this is a lifetime goal, so I am not in a big hurry. It is likely to take a number of years to complete the project. On the other hand, I don’t feel particularly conscientious about attending all the new parks as they are built. I am going to consider that I can cross a team off my list if I have seen that team in its home park. You may disagree with this rule, but it is my project, and I get to make the rules.

Along the way, I will have some thoughts about baseball and other stuff that I will share. You will note from the lists that I have 20 teams down and 10 to go (a few hours ago it stood at 19 and 11, but I am just back from a Cleveland game. You may prefer that I say “Progressive Field” but I will have more to say about those stupid stadium names later (also, remember the rule stated in the previous paragraph). Because so many of my visits happened in the past, most of my blogs will contain vague recollections of parks past rather than vague recollections of parks present. In some of those cases, there will likely be much discussion of other stuff, as the recollections of the park will likely be severely limited.

When I do talk about parks, I’m not sure where this will take me. I have some temptation to look at what others have written about different parks and develop a list of criteria that I would use for the sake of comparison. But I suspect I will not give in to that temptation. Rather, I will talk about whatever is on my mind, and perhaps from that, a sense of the pleasures of the baseball experience will emerge that is truer than a statistical template could provide. Doubtless I already sound like one of those intellectuals who thinks baseball is the only sport worthy of attention. Which I am.

And so our warmup comes to an end. Next – Play Ball!

What is the Burnham Baseball Project?

The Burnham Baseball Project records my attempt to attend baseball games at all the Major League Parks, and provides me with an excuse to discourse on whatever strikes my fancy in connection therewith. New readers may want to read my first post, Pre-game Warm-up, to get an introduction to the Project. From there feel free to read chronologically or by Team by clicking on the list below.

Ballparks Visited

American League Teams:

* Baltimore (Oriole Park)

* Boston (Fenway Park)

* Chicago (U.S. Cellular Field)

* Cincinnati (Great American Ball Park)

* Cleveland (Progressive Field)

* Detroit (Comerica Park)

* Kansas City (Kauffman Stadium)

* Los Angeles (Angel Stadium)

* Minnesota (The Metrodome)

* New York (Yankee Stadium)

* Oakland (Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum)

* Seattle (Safeco Field)

* Tampa Bay (Tropicana Field)

National League Stadiums:

* Atlanta (Turner Field)

* Chicago (Wrigley Field)

* Colorado (Coors Field)

* Florida (Land Shark Stadium)

* Milwaukee (Miller Park)

* New York (Citi Field)

* Philadelphia (Citizens Bank Park)

* Pittsburgh (PNC Park)

* San Diego (PETCO Park)

* San Francisco (AT&T Park)

* Washington (Nationals Park)

Ballparks Yet to See

American League Teams:

* Toronto (Rogers Centre)

National League Stadiums:

* Arizona (Chase Field)

* Houston (Minute Maid Park)

* Los Angeles (Dodger Stadium)

* St. Louis (Busch Stadium)

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