by Chip Ainsworth
Long ago on a late September afternoon before there was Red Sox Nation, Wally the Green Monster and little children announcing starting lineups, I hopped in my old Mustang and high-tailed it to Boston for one last glimpse of Luis Tiant on the mound. The whirling dervish won 122 games in eight seasons for the Red Sox but this wasn’t one of those nights. He was in the showers before I’d even hit my seat.
The point is that those were the days when fans could go to a game on a whim and a few bucks in their pockets. Sellouts were few, and in 1978 a grandstand seat along first base cost $4.75. It was an era before ticket agencies, a time when baseball was just a game, not a pompous spectacle with ceremonial first pitches, ear-splitting flyovers and interminably long renditions of the national anthem.
Then came the two World Series titles and a string of sellouts that began on May 13, 2003. If my math is correct, Saturday afternoon’s matchup against the Yankees would have been the 718th straight time there’s been a paid fanny in every seat.
The sellouts created a burgeoning secondary market composed of street scalpers and ticket brokers who’ve charged fans double and sometimes triple what they’d pay at the box office. Even at face value a Red Sox ticket is the highest in baseball, steeper than tickets at Yankee Stadium. According to Team Marketing Report, the average price for a non-premium seat at Fenway Park is $53.38, and that’s double the league average. TMR also calculates that taking a family of four to a Red Sox home game this season will cost a $336.99, not including gas and parking.
Now it’s time for the good news.
Last September’s historic collapse by the Red Sox has dented the secondary market and threatened the team’s streak of consecutive sellouts. If the Red Sox continue to hover around the AL East basement and lose by scores of 18-3 like they did to Texas on Tuesday, the fair weather fans will soon find other ways to spend their hundreds.
Already some tickets are selling for less than face value. Ace Ticket is offering grandstand and field box seats for the April 30 game against Oakland at nearly 40 percent under face value. At StubHub, 5,244 tickets are available for the May 14 game against Seattle. They include grandstand seats for half price and SRO tickets for under $10.
Last Sunday I purchased a field box seat seven rows from behind third base at Ace Ticket for $85 plus a $5.95 service charge, a savings of $39.05.
Two years ago on a Patriots Day weekend the same seat would have cost at least $200. “Those were the glory days,” said a scalper hawking tickets on Brookline Avenue. “We’re all broke millionaires now.”
I drove in on a beautiful morning and parked near the corner of Chestnut and Brookline streets in Cambridge, precisely 84.6 miles from my Northfield doorstep and a mile-and-a-half from the $35 parking lots.
It was a residential area and granite fence posts with wooden rails enclosed a small park where children played kickball and dogs fetched balls. With the scent of crabapple blossoms in the air, I started for the BU Bridge where the cityscape was a tableau of joggers and cyclists, kayakers on the Charles River, and the golden dome of the Massachusetts State House gleamed in the hazy distance.
Outside the ballpark on Yawkey Way I bought a program with Bobby Valentine on the cover. In two short weeks the new skipper has a glazed, deer-in-the-headlights look of not knowing what he got himself into. The vendor took my three bills, unfolded and straightened them out, then handed me back a ten-dollar bill that I’d thought was a single.
“Thanks for your honesty,” I said.
“I’ve been here a long time,” he replied, as if explaining the reason for his longevity was indeed being honest.
The game’s starting pitchers were two young left-handers, both with less than 40 innings of big league experience. For the Red Sox, 24-year-old Felix Doubront was in the rotation because regular starters John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka are both on the injured list.
Rays pitcher Matt Moore is a phenom-in-progress who signed a five-year deal last winter worth a guaranteed $14 million. (Despite the cash windfall he still drives a 2008 Chevy Camaro.) Tampa Bay’s willingness to sign the New Mexican was largely the result of his first two starts last September when he allowed no runs, struck out 17 and walked three in 12 combined innings against the Yankees and Rangers.
Tampa Bay has been picked by many to finish ahead of the Red Sox this season, and before Doubront’s first pitch the woman behind me said to her husband, “These guys killed us at the end of the season last year.”
He paused and replied, “I think everyone killed us at the end of last season.”
Doubront struck out the first two Tampa batters and held the Rays hitless through the first two innings. Meanwhile Moore was feeling the heat of pitching in the shadow of the Green Monster. He survived the first inning but in a span of 10 pitches trailed 3-0 in the second inning after giving up a single to Kevin Youkilis, a double to David Ortiz, and a three-run blast over everything in left field by Cody Ross. The Red Sox went on to win, 6-4.
During the game the woman seated next to me said she’d paid $740 to fly from Vancouver to run in Monday’s Boston Marathon. Diminutive and talkative, she wore a running hat, running shoes, stretch pants and a windbreaker, and carried a knapsack and bottle of water. This was her seventh marathon, her first in the U.S., and she’d taken time from her job as a third-grade teacher and school librarian. “I’m in Boston. I ought to see Fenway but I haven’t made my way to the Boston Public Library yet.”
During games team photographers roam the stands taking photos of couples and families. They return later with the finished product that fans can buy for $35. I asked the photographer how many fans actually purchase them. “About 45 percent,” she replied. “It varies. Families almost always buy. We go searching them out which is really hard because there’s a million people here.”
I left Fenway before the game ended. Behind my car in Cambridge was a late model Nissan Altima with a bumper sticker that said, “Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes.” Henry David Thoreau uttered the words, maybe while camped out on Walden Pond.
Welcome to Cambridge, I thought, where a gallon of regular cost $4.17 but the parking and words of wisdom are free.
Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning New England sportswriter.