Every summer, thousands of tourists flock to the grand old city of Boston.
They come to see historical sites like Paul Revere's house, Faneuil Hall, the U.S.S. Constitution or walk the Freedom Trail.
There is plenty to do in Beantown for the wayward traveler and a lot of history to digest, but for me, there was just one thing I wanted to see: Fenway Park.
Not just see it, mind you, but actually experience one of baseball's most fabled ballparks.
From its famous left-field wall, affectionately known as the Green Monster, to its wonderfully anachronistic hand-operated scoreboard, Fenway Park, home to the Boston Red Sox since 1912, is alive with its own personality and unique history.
The lyric little bandbox of a ballpark, as John Updike describes it in his book Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu, has been home to heroes like Tris Speaker, Ted Williams, Tony Conigliaro, and Carl Yastrzemski. It's the place Bostonians cheered when the Red Sox won their last World Series in 1918, thanks to a young pitcher named Babe Ruth. And it holds that blasted curse ever since the Babe took his game to New York in 1920.
I have been a baseball fan most of my life and I have always been fascinated by the history of the sport. Living on the West Coast, I never dreamed I would see Fenway in person, considered by many to be a living shrine to the great American pastime.
To see Fenway Park on TV is not the same as seeing it in person. Not even close.
Beginning each February until the end of the season, one can get the Fenway experience up close and personal, thanks to the daily Fenway Park tours.
For the past decade, the Red Sox front office opens the gates at 9 a.m. and allows hundreds of fans to tour the 90-year-old park. It's management's way of giving back to the fans.
The tour begins, appropriately enough, in the left-field seats overlooking the Green Monster. The first thing you will notice is how green Fenway is when it's empty. From the manicured grass, which would put many golf courses to shame thanks to its healthy diet of purified water, to the rows of seats, the green really stands out.
What is striking is how small Fenway is in person. The Park holds more than 35,000, which seems like a lot until you venture into a more modern stadium, which holds up to 60,000.
The seating is terribly uncomfortable, especially if you are taller than 5-foot-10 and weigh more than 200 pounds. You squeeze into a wooded chair, your knees just inches away from the person's head in front of you.
Should someone decide to use the restroom or buy a Fenway Frank during a ballgame, the whole row is forced to stand in unison to allow the person to stumble past. As Boston Globe columnist Mike Barnicle wrote, Once inside (Fenway) you sit in seats made for hostages. No matter what shape you might be in physically, the place is so small you feel as if you just ate Spain as you struggle to find a spot for your elbow. Ted Kennedy sits in front of you and you won't even see The Wall.
As I squirm in my chair, our tour guide, an energetic guy named Billy, enlightens the crowd with some Red Sox tidbits before leading us up the aisles out onto the main concourse and up a steep concrete ramp. Billy informs the group that the trees that surround the park had to be sheered because fans would climb them and get onto the roof.
I climbed those trees for the 1986 World Series, he muses.
From there, we are led into a small room where six jersey numbers are framed.
You are standing in a very sacred place, Billy informs us.
The retired numbers of Bobby Doerr's No. 1, Joe Cronin's No. 4, Carl Yastrzemski's, No. 8, Ted Williams' No. 9, and Carlton Fisk's No. 27 are displayed proudly.
Jackie Robinson's No. 42, which was officially retired by Major League Baseball in 1997, is also displayed.
For all you trivia buffs, only three players in the major leagues currently wear No. 42, Mo Vaughn of the New York Mets, Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees, and Jose Lima of the Detroit Tigers. When those three are done playing, the No. 42 will never be seen on the field again.
As the tour continues, we are led up to the press box where Red Sox radio legends Joe Castiglione and Jerry Remy call balls and strikes for the folks at home.
From there we are herded into the 406 Club, originally called the 600 Club, but recently renamed in honor of the late Ted Williams, who hit .406 in 1941. We all slump into big upholstered chairs and learn about the history of the 406 Club ' established as Fenway's first luxury boxes in 1989 ' while we get a view of groundskeepers carving out the big No. 9 in left field, in honor of Williams.
It is here that I get a glimpse of Sox owner John Henry, who is admiring the infield.
After sitting in the lap of luxury, we make our way to hallowed grounds: the playing field.
For most fans that step onto Fenway's field, the cost is $500 and a night in jail, so it is only natural to feel apprehensive when the first base gate swings open. But once we get Billy's approval and are ushered onto the field, even the most stoic members of the tour are reduced to excessive giggling and bewildering smiles as big as the left-field wall.
Billy's one request as the group crowds onto the reddish clay dirt surrounding the playing field is to stay off the grass. Should one feel adventurous and make their way onto the grass, their tour of Fenway comes to a swift end.
We descend into the dugouts down the steep steps for a chance to sit where Nomar, Manny, and Pedro stay between at-bats. Nomar, the most superstitious player in the game, is insistent on sitting in the same spot before each of his plate appearances. (For the record, it's in front of a padded pole on the right-hand side of the dugout).
Moving out toward right field, Billy regales the crowd with the story of the Pesky Pole, named after light-hitting shortstop and later manager Johnny Pesky, who made it a habit of hitting line drives off the foul pole.
We make our way around center field, glance up to the red seat, which marks the spot where Ted Williams' 502-foot home run landed on June 9, 1946.
Billy informs the crowd that Williams' home run landed on a spectator's head, crushing his straw hat, sending him to the hospital with a concussion.
It's all right, though, Billy tells the crowd. The guy was a Yankee fan.
The 420 marker in dead center is symbolic because it was the exact day the park opened along with Tiger Stadium in 1912. The story was bumped to the back of the papers by the Titanic sinking a few days before.
We finally reach the fabled Green Monster and kids of all ages pose for pictures in front of the scoreboard, where the initials of former owners Thomas A. Yawkey and his wife Jean are printed in Morse code.
Fathers toss their sons simulated flyballs while they crash into the Monster and the curious peer behind the scoreboard's door to see what is on the other side. Most are disappointed to see a small stuffy room with a slew of numbers on shelves.
I glance up at the pole that Fisk used body English to will his dramatic home run in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series. I pose for photos with my wife and kids in front of the Monster, before making a slow walk to the exit. I stand at the foot of the exit surrounded by other fans. We take one last glance at history, let out a collective sigh and walk out of the Park giddy and full of energy.
That night I watched the Red Sox fall to the Athletics, 9-1, and from my seat, I look out toward the Monster and smile. I touched history.