One of my favorite movies, Local Hero, centers around an odd juxtaposition of sentiments. A hard-driven, bean-counting executive from a Houston oil company is dispatched to the north coast of Scotland, to negotiate the purchase of a breathtakingly beautiful fishing village that offers the ideal site for a giant refinery. Instead, he becomes utterly enchanted by the place and would give anything to stay.
But the townsfolk, far from being ardent defenders of their quaint, charming locale, are only too anxious to sell. They dream of trading their isolation and the hard life of fishing for the relative comforts of a townhouse in Glasgow. “It’s their place,” explains a fellow outsider to the disappointed oilman. “They have a right to make of it what they can.”
In Boston these days, life seems to be imitating art. At least the movie seems an apt way to explain the sentiments of Bostonians toward their city's most alluring sports locale, Fenway Park.
Only two places in baseball could fairly be described as sacred ground, and Fenway is one. After this month, it and Wrigley Field will be the last of the unreconstructed old neighborhood ballyards.
To visit Fenway for the first time, as my dad and I did recently, is to become enraptured
Like the oilman in the Highlands, you fall in love with the place’s charms: the fabled, high green left field wall; the closeness; the peanut vendors and the hurlyburly outside; the erratically updated manual scoreboard; most of all, the park's ambiance of antiquity allows you to feel as if you're sharing a bit of space, if not a moment intime, with all the ghosts of Red Sox past, all the way back to Ruth.
(It’s no coincidence that Kevin Costner chose Fenway as the ballpark his character was bidden to visit in Field of Dreams.)
But the stadium, at least most of it, is coming down. It may happen in a couple of years. The old park might live to see 2004.
The owners have resolved to follow the American way with Fenway: raze the old place, then raise up a new one.
The issue, primarily, is money. In 1912, Fenway’s builders never
imagined that millions could one day be made had they possessed the acumen to build cushy luxury suites and charge the big daddies of Beacon Hill small fortunes to occupy them.
With 10,000 more seats, as the owners propose to add, Fenway could accommodate one million more fans and tens of millions more dollars each year.
But if outsiders regard the demolition of one of baseball’s holiest places as an abomination, the principal victims don’t seem particularly perturbed.
Ask around, and you’ll find that the majority of Bostonians favor a new Fenway. They say they’re ready to be rid of the old park’s cramped, narrow seats, the pole-obstructed views and the poor seats down the rightfield line, and the inadequate restroom and concession facilities.
Even the Sox’s most famous living player, Ted Williams, and one of their best-known fans, Doris Kearns Goodwin, endorse the new park.
It helps that the owners had the eminent sense to understand that Fenway II would be salable only if the new field offers the same quirky dimensions as the old. Next door, the original infield and leftfield wall will survive as a public park. There’ll be a new Green Monster like the old, a new manual scoreboard, plus all the old intimacy. It’ll be the same, only bigger and better.
Except that it can’t be the same. It won’t be the same left field wall that Carl Yazstremski defended, or over which Carlton Fisk coaxed his famous World Series home run. It won't be the same mound from which El Tiante and the great Ruth once pitched. It can be better, but it won't be the same.
Of course, it’s easy to sit in Nashville and pontificate that Bostonians musn't touch their shambling old park. I don't regularly have to deal with the tick-tight seats or the dank restrooms.
The new park will be breathtakingly beautiful. Everyone will love it.
And it’s not like they’re replacing Fenway with a festered Walgreen’s.
But when the old park succumbs, I’ll feel wistful for a place that can be visited only in the imagination. I'll feel a little like the oil executive who's sent back from Houston at the end of the movie but can't get Scotland out of his head. From his high-rise condo, he dials the village's public phone, but no one ever answers. It just rings and rings.
How It Looks From The La-Z-Boy
Vanderbilt 27, Duke 21
Late Saturday night, an ESPN2 announcer described one team’s heartbreaking loss, which resulted from a mind-numbing, last-minute breakdown, as “Vanderbiltian.” By that hour, of course, the news had long ago reached the network’s Connecticut studios that Vanderbilt had pulled off a feat that, by ESPN’s definition, ranked as inconceivably unvanderbiltian: the Commodores had rallied three times, held their composure, and stunned Ole Miss, 37-34, on the Rebels’ home field.
You’ll have to forgive the boys on the Deuce for being a little out of touch with current realities at Vandyland. Just as they were a week ago, a lot of folks around here are scratching their heads. This time, though, they're no longer wondering about the character of this Commodore team; now they're puzzling over when they last saw one like it.
Vanderbilt’s stirring overtime win Saturday easily marked the most important victory of Woody Widenhofer's coaching tenure. It's certainly the most critical W since Gerry DiNardo's team whacked Georgia in Athens in 1994.
But, even more significant, the Ole Miss game may force the Media Geniuses, not to mention the rest of us, to redefine the meaning of Vanderbiltian.
Consider just a few of the weekend’s strange developments: In recent years, Vanderbilt’s shuffled quarterbacks have passed more like Drew Carey than Drew Bledsoe. But on Saturday, Greg Zolman started
slowly, then shredded the Mississippi defense like barbecued pork. When was the last time you recall that a Vandy QB passed for 340 yards in a gameor even a season?
The Dores of the ’80s and ’90s have compiled a long record of moral victories. You can count on one hand, with digits to spare, the number of times they have rallied to win against a respectable opponent. On Saturday, Vandy refused to fold or to accept an honorable defeat. What’s up with THAT?
Over the years, Vandy has discovered remarkably inventive ways to lose when games were on the line. (Anyone recall the twice-muffed two-point conversion against LSU a couple of years ago?) Down the stretch on Saturday, the Dores were remarkable instead for clutch performances.
They converted on more third downs than in all of last season. They overcame penalties. They even set off a bomb.
For all the world, this looks like a team that has some offensive weapons, doesn't lose its poise and even knows how to win. In other words, its like nothing we've seen wearing black and gold since any of the current freshmen were in diapers. Much more of this, and they may have to revive the Woodyball slogan that was quietly retired last year: Have fun, expect to win.
Of course, a loss at Duke on Saturday could bring the whole giddy party to an end. But our guess is that Vandy’s newfound momentum and confidence, and the Blue Devils’ fecklessness, will keep the revels going at least one more week.
Tennessee 38, Memphis 13
Arkansas 24, Alabama 20
Auburn 23, Ole Miss 17
Florida 45, Kentucky 24
Georgia 52, Central Florida 17
Mississippi State 24, South Carolina 10
Michigan 21, Wisconsin 17
Tufts 31, Hamilton 13
Jaguars 27, Titans 17