My first memory of Fenway Park has the typical nostalgic hue: I’m 8 years old, walking up the ramp with my dad, the impossibly bright colors and sounds from the field revealing themselves in deeper, mesmerizing clarity with each step, casting a spell that would last a lifetime.
My second memory, from later that game, is peeing into a giant bathtub next to dozens of grown men. That’s the early ’80s for you.
While America’s “most beloved” (and most expensive) ballpark has long since lost the troughs and is now, in some spots, unrecognizably gentrified, most people attending a Red Sox game aren’t paying hundreds of dollars for premium tickets or eating farm-to-table cuisine in the EMC Club. We’re sitting in seats almost as cramped as our parents and grandparents had, eating the same peanuts and Cracker Jacks. Sure, we might wash them down with a $12 Ketel One vodka and lemonade these days. But if Red Sox games remain a gloriously unglamorous outing for you and your family, this guide to Fenway is for you — the common fan.
HOW TO SCORE TICKETS
> Get Thee to Gate E
Ninety minutes before game time, the Red Sox release unsold tickets of varied appeal (anything from standing room and scattered single tickets to pricey luxury seats) at Gate E. If you’ve got lots of time to kill, you can queue up on Lansdowne Street up to five hours beforehand. However, don’t expect to buy tickets for friends or scalp them: It’s one ticket per person, and you have to go straight into the park afterward.
> Tiered Pricing
The Red Sox now offer tiered ticket pricing, which means you can attend a midweek game against a less exciting AL opponent for as little as half the price of a weekend Yankees game. So if you’re just looking for a night out at the ballpark and don’t really care who’s playing, check out Tier 4 and Sox Saver games against teams like the Rangers, Rays, and Orioles.
If you strike out online, you could (theoretically!) try your luck with the semipro scalpers pacing outside the park. After the first pitch, they’ll be more inclined to dump their remaining tickets, which lose value faster than a new car driving off the dealer’s lot. Not sure half a game is worth the money? Remember, baseball “ain’t over till it’s over” — sometimes the biggest plays don’t come until the 12th or 14th inning.
> Online Resellers
Despite exorbitant fees, ticket resale sites like StubHub, Ace Ticket, and the team-sanctioned Red Sox Replay (where season ticket holders can unload their seats) make it easier than ever to get into a game at a price you can live with. StubHub is perhaps your best option: When I checked a weekend game coming up in mid-August, they had three times as many available tickets as Ace or Red Sox Replay, and they allow ticket sales right up until game time — that’s when you can get the best deal. “If you care about where you want to sit, buy early,” says StubHub’s communications manager Cameron Papp. “If you’re just trying to get into the game, wait until the last possible second.”
> Free Tix for Tykes
Got kids? You can score each of them a free ticket by signing them up for Red Sox Kid Nation (while supplies last; the offer is capped at 25,000 sign-ups this year). Assuming you’re not sending your 7-year-old to Fenway alone, you’ll have to buy a ticket yourself — and the deal only applies to available tickets (that is, no Yankees games). It’s also worth remembering that visiting Fenway is a little like flying: You go through a metal detector just to be crammed into a tiny seat for hours, but kids under 2 can sit in your lap for free.
> Discounts Are Available
High school and college students with a valid student ID can score standing-room tickets for $9 after registering online (be sure to bring your ID to the park). And military personnel — including active-duty, veterans, and reserves — can also buy discounted tickets if they verify their service credentials through GovX.com.
WHERE TO SIT
> First, Get a Preview of the View
With a few big exceptions — like the dreaded “obstructed view” seats positioned directly behind a giant green pole — Fenway’s small size means almost every seat is a good one. But before you buy a ticket, especially in the grandstands, it’s worth checking the view on PreciseSeating.com. This invaluable fan-run service offers real photo views or 3-D renderings from almost every seat in the park and notes any partially obstructed sightlines or whether people will be walking in front of you the whole game.
Even Fenway’s cheap seats afford a surprisingly nice view of the action. And in the lower rows by the bullpens, vocal fans can taunt the opposing team’s outfielders and relief pitchers quite effectively (umm . . . so I’ve heard). For a couple of bucks more, you can buy what amounts to rain insurance and sit under the overhang in Outfield Grandstand Sections 1-4.
> Budweiser Right Field Roof Deck
It’s been said that Fenway is the best bar in Boston — it just comes with an outrageous cover charge. If you’re more interested in soaking up the vibe on a balmy summer night than hanging on every pitch, make your way to the Budweiser Right Field Roof Deck. There you’ll find a bona fide sports bar and patio lounge area, with glimpses of the field on one side and the Boston skyline on the other. The four-top tables are tough tickets to come by, even at ticket prices ranging from $95 to $155. With full food and drink service, elbow room, and an incredible view, it’s not hard to see why. But standing-room tickets ($20 to $40) make this section accessible at lower budgets.
> Outfield Grandstand Sections 32-33
At $23 to $45, these alcohol-free sections — angled toward the infield for a nice view — are one of Fenway’s best values. The no-booze policy is strictly enforced, and the family-friendly vibe means your kids are less likely to overhear stray F-bombs, too.
> Standing Room
This is the cheapest way to enter the park, and not a bad way to watch a game if you arrive early enough to nab a good spot. Some SRO areas along the first-base side (above Infield Grandstand Sections 14-15) have little ledges where you can rest a beer and your elbows.
> For People With Disabilities
Despite its rusty old reputation, Fenway is an encouragingly accessible ballpark. Wheelchair-accessible seating is available in the uppermost rows of many grandstand sections, the first row of the bleachers, on top of the Green Monster, and the first row of certain field boxes, among other locations.
WHEN TO LEAVE YOUR SEAT
There’s never a great time to leave your seats for a bathroom, food, or beer run, but there is a worst time: the end of the third inning. “There’s usually a rush prior to first pitch, after the completion of the first inning,” explains Red Sox spokeswoman Zineb Curran, then another rush between the third/fourth and the sixth/seventh innings. Most people want to see the Red Sox bat, so you’ll face slightly shorter lines if you head down to the concourse in the middle of an inning. And as a general rule, the higher up you go in Fenway — think roof deck and pavilion level — the shorter the lines should be, although your vendor options are often more limited.
WHERE NOT TO SIT
For the love of Papi, avoid Outfield Grandstand Sections 5-8. Whereas Section 10, and the right-field box seats below it, are a nice value: You’re one section over from the first-base infield seats for just over half the price. But nearby sections 5-8 (and the box seats below them) are perhaps the worst deal in the park. These seats face straight out toward center field — literally away from home plate — and you’ll have a crick in your neck for days after a game spent straining to see the batter.
MOVIN’ ON DOWN?
Remember that plenty of people with good seats leave the game early or don’t show up at all. Now that I have a 4-year-old who really ought to be in bed before midnight, I’m one of them. While it’s not condoned by management (let’s not tell Sox owner John Henry, who also owns the Globe, OK?) and an usher will tell you to scram if you’re caught, you can almost always move up to better seats after the seventh inning or so, especially if a 10-2 blowout or a rain delay has sent the more sensible fans packing.
YOUR MESSAGE UP IN LIGHTS
> Want to blow your kid’s mind, celebrate an anniversary, or embarrass your friend? You can have your personal message displayed on Fenway’s giant centerfield scoreboard for a $50 to $100 donation to the Red Sox Foundation.
> There were 44 marriage proposals last season — those cost $250 to $350.
> Take the T
If you can handle the hot, human soup of Park Street at rush hour and Kenmore on game day, the MBTA is the best way to get to Fenway. For just a few bucks, you don’t have to worry about traffic, parking, or postgame Uber surge pricing. Tip: When the Kenmore Station entrance is backed up after a game, save time and sanity by crossing the street and entering through the other side of the station underpass. If you have a plastic CharlieCard, there’s usually a temporary express entry set up on that side. (Try not to mock the tourists and their flappy CharlieTickets.)
> Find a Good Garage
If you dare drive in, you’ll pay top dollar ($50 or more) to park in the lots immediately surrounding Fenway; you’ll also be stuck in gridlock after the game lets out. Scope out other nearby garages on the SpotHero or Parking Panda apps and reserve a more reasonable rate within walking distance. For example, the Pru garage, a 15-minute walk away, charges $18 for night or weekend games with a valid Sox ticket stub.
> Take to the Streets
You can also look for a metered spot a half-mile or more from Fenway (think Comm. Ave. or Hemenway Street). For night games, aim for a 6 o’clock arrival — early enough to secure a spot, but within two hours of most meters’ 8 p.m. shut-off time. If you end up too far to hoof it, take a pedicab (Boston Pedicab, 617-266-2005) to the park and back to your car later. Even if you parked at the Pru garage and paid your cyclist $10 each way, you’d still save money — and avoid postgame traffic on Brookline Avenue.
> Before First Pitch
Everyone comes at Fenway from one of three sides: the north (Kenmore Square), southeast (Boylston Street), or southwest (Brookline Avenue). On the Kenmore side, hit the tiny, cash-only Lower Depths Tap Room for craft beers, $2 Fenway Franks, and tasty takes on tater tots. On the other side of the park, you can’t go wrong atop the enormous roof deck at Tony C’s or the cavernous craft-beer chain Yard House.
> Inside the Park
Meat seekers can find steak and turkey tips (now supplied by Savenor’s, Julia Child’s beloved butcher shop), bacon-and-chicken kebabs, and loaded baked potatoes along the first-base concourse, a Tasty Burger (with bar tables) on the third-base deck, and barbecue sandwiches beneath the bleachers. Upstairs at the Budweiser Brew House, try the Korean fried pork belly sandwich from celebrity chef Andrew Zimmern. There are even gluten-free options scattered around, including hot dogs and pizza in the home plate concourse — where you’ll also find healthy options such as fruit and yogurt. Of course, Fenway Franks, Italian sausages, chicken tenders, and other park staples are just about everywhere.
> Vendors on Yawkey Way
Forget peanuts and Cracker Jacks — how about Cuban sandwiches and fish and chips? Fenway has a vendor to sate almost any hankering, if you know where to look. For Cuban, Mexican, Asian, and seafood, hit Yawkey Way, where you’ll also find specialty sandwiches and rotating specials from an outpost of Savenor’s.
> Dunkin’ Runs
Fenway Park holds almost 38,000 people at full capacity; that’s more than the population of Braintree. But while Braintree has 10 Dunkin’ Donuts locations, Fenway has just three. So if you run on Dunkin’, fill up at Gate E or under the bleachers, and expect a long line on chilly nights.
> Drink Better Beer
There are now more than 4,000 breweries in the United States, so it’s a bit unfair to expect a baseball stadium to offer all the craft beers you’d find at a package store — and Fenway certainly doesn’t. But they’re at least making an effort. Yes, you’ll find plenty of Bud products, but they include its crafty kin Goose Island and Blue Point. Belgian white ales like Blue Moon and Shock Top (also Bud-owned) are widely available, as are seasonal and standby brews from local craft pioneers Sam Adams and Harpoon. Fans of the dark and malty can get a Guinness or Smithwick’s near home plate or the bleachers. Rarer finds include Smuttynose Finestkind IPA, Wachusett Blueberry Ale and Green Monsta IPA, and Long Trail Ale, all on the first-base concourse, Dos Equis on Yawkey Way, and Jack’s Abby House Lager just inside Gate E.
Massachusetts and booze have a . . . complicated relationship. Unlike in most Major League stadiums, you can’t buy beer in your seats at Fenway — unless you’re in one of several premium sections: Dugout, Field, and Loge Boxes; Budweiser Right Field Roof Deck tables; or the State Street Pavilion and EMC Clubs. The rest of us can, however, expect a visit from vendors selling hot dogs, peanuts, soda, cotton candy, and other ballpark staples — so don’t feel compelled to wait in line just to buy a Fenway Frank.
> Wally’s Clubhouse
Introduced in 2015, Wally’s Clubhouse is Fenway Park’s finished basement: a climate-controlled game room open from the third inning through the seventh. Instead of sulking in those expensive seats you bought them, kids can escape the heat (and all that boring baseball) to play video games, jump on giant foam blocks, or get their faces painted. Grown-ups, take heart: The game is broadcast on a big screen, and there’s a beer vendor.
> Wally Photo Ops
To snag a photo with Wally the Green Monster or his little sister, Tessie, head to Gate K during the third inning (essentially Gate B, but with a K for kids). There’s also a speed pitch game where young aces can clock their fastball and other kids’ activities.
There isn’t an easy way to score signatures of current players — you can try during batting practice if you get into the park early or stalk your heroes outside the players’ parking lot by Gate D on Van Ness Street. But before each home game, the Red Sox set up “Autograph Alley” in the team store on Yawkey Way, where you can meet a retired player, coach, or personality. Be warned that it’s hit or miss: Could be Dwight Evans, could be a forgotten utility infielder from the 1960s.
If buying team-branded goodies is part of your game-day tradition, the official Sox team store is on Yawkey Way, and two satellite locations open up inside the park during home games at Gates B and D. The prices are what you’d expect — astronomical — but season ticket holders and Red Sox Kid Nation members can get a 10 percent discount on full-priced merchandise. You can also save a few bucks at the Fan Central department at CityTarget on Boylston Street, or check out the vendors selling all manner of T-shirts, hats, and other Sox gear (of varied authenticity) outside the park. Better yet, take a look at the team’s promotional schedule and plan on attending a game with an official giveaway: For example, on June 23, kids 14 and under receive a Wally beach towel, and on August 9, the first 15,000 fans through the turnstiles get a David Ortiz bobblehead.
THE GREEN MONSTER
I’ll admit it, watching a game from the 37-foot Green Monster is a one-of-a-kind experience, unlike anything else in baseball. But is it worth $500 or more? No way! Sate your curiosity on the cheap with a Fenway Park tour ($18), which includes a stop atop the wall. Better yet, season ticket holders — or you, if you buy tickets from one of them — are welcome to watch batting practice from atop the Green Monster before games. Want to go inside the Green Monster, where hundreds of players have signed their names? Premium ballpark tours ($30 and up) occasionally include a peek inside the wall, but always let you step out onto the warning track.
THERE’S SOMETHING YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT SINGING
> The middle of the eighth inning belongs to Neil Diamond: “Sweet Caroline’’ has been the official Red Sox anthem since 2002. Don’t fight it, just sing along — ba-ba-bums and all — and take it all the way through the second chorus, even if the song stops playing on the PA system. The lyrics (minus the “so good!” embellishments) are on the scoreboard to help you along.
> If the Sox win, get ready for the opening licks of “Dirty Water,” an ode to 1960s Boston by one-hit wonders the Standells. If they lose, you’ll hear Rod Stewart’s “Some Guys Have All the Luck” on the organ, which is just as depressing as it sounds.
FOR MORE COVERAGE: