High above Fenway Park's emerald-green outfield, up where the smells of fresh-roasted peanuts swirl toward a blue Boston sky, there stands a new phenomenon in sports spectatorship: stadium-style seats perched atop the famous Green Monster wall.
Sure, the world has other great sports-viewing spots: the hot tub at Phoenix's Bank One Ballpark, the Royal Box at Wimbledon, the rooftops behind Chicago's Wrigley Field. But Fenway's new seats set a standard for sweeping outfield spectators into the glory of the game.
Partly, it's the view: Just 310 feet from home plate, the seats put fans right in the action. Partly it's where the view is from: a roughly 40-foot-tall design quirk that makes this park uniquely asymmetrical - and that plays a unique role in the bittersweet lore of Red Sox fandom. It's like watching the Super Bowl from the end zone. Or the Masters from the 18th putting green.
"These are just the best seats in baseball," says Jeff Fraser, a thick-necked ironworker with a bald pate and wrap-around sunglasses. He's sitting in the front row, swiveling around on his green metal chair, holding court.
He and a buddy camped out overnight in the ticket line - and teamed up to get eight seats for the first home game and four seats for each of the next six games.
At $50 each, the total bill reached $1,600. "It set me back a bit, but it's worth every penny, every penny," he says in his deep, diesel-toned voice.
After all, he's sitting just a few feet from where Carlton Fisk's homerun struck in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series to keep Sox fans' hopes alive for one more game. (It's that game that lives in fans' memories here, not the Game 7 loss.) And he's not far from where Yankee shortstop Bucky Dent's homer landed, thus crushing the Sox in the 1978 American League playoff. Indeed, for Sox fans, the monster is filled with all the holiness and heartbreak of Jerusalem's Wailing Wall.
It's also one of the most recognizable icons in sports. So one of the games people play up here is calling friends via cellphone to say: "Dude, I'm on the Monster!"
The beloved wall was inspired not by an architectect's aesthetic sensibilities or as a clever strategy to carve out a home-field advantage. It was forced on Fenway by the configuration of surrounding streets. Given a shallow left field, a high wall was the only way to avoid intolerable heaps of home runs.
The Green Monster has flummoxed generations of left-fielders with its challenging caroms. And now, it's thrilling fans as a viewing platform. For now at least, these are the hottest seats in baseball.
On a glorious, sun-filled day this week, firefighter Brian Rayne scored tickets on the Monster, while some of his friends were settling for lesser Fenway seats, most of which were shrouded in shadow. "Oh, you poor chump, you're over there in the shade," he says into his cellphone. Hatching after-game plans they pick a place to meet, and he declares, "I'll be the one with the ball."
Indeed, life on the Monster raises spectating to a newly interactive level.
Spill a drink from the front row and it's liable to topple over the wall and land on the left-field grass. Cast a glance downward, and the glistening sweat on outfielder Manny Ramirez's neck comes into view. Best of all, because the Monster is a virtual home-run magnet, fans get lots of chances to snag a ball of their own - although some are better fielders than others.
In the sixth inning, a Toronto player cracks a homer that bounces off the Volvo sign above the Monster - and into the palm of Mark Mayo, a beefy vending-truck driver from Everett, Mass. But Mayo flubs the catch - and the ball ricochets back onto the field.
"Ohhh," moans the crowd.
"What ya got, a fist full of thumbs?" yells one of his buddies.
"Hey, I was on live TV," he retorts, trying to redeem the moment.
"Yeah, they saw you drop it, live!" Within seconds, his and his buddies' cellphones start ringing - with family and friends reporting that they did see Mayo drop the ball.
Matt Mazzarella, a dark-haired body-shop worker from Everett, has his own missed-catch tale. During batting practice the other day, a ball was heading just below the top of the Monster. "So I reach over the wall, and my buddy grabs my legs to keep me from falling," he says. "I've got my $500 camera in one hand, and the ball hits me in the fingertips - and I almost drop the camera."
No matter what their catching ability, everyone can succeed at one Monster pastime - harassing the rival left-fielder.
But not everyone is totally taken with the seats. Robert Murphy, a computer salesman who has season tickets along the third-base line, observes that from the Monster it's impossible to see plays in left field - as they happen below the sightline. "Besides, concession and bathroom lines are shorter over there," he says. Still today he's on the Monster and loving it.
The seats are an effort by team owners to raise more revenue in baseball's smallest park. They'll bring in about $1 million this year, and they're sold out for the season - except for a handful of standing-room slots available every game day.
Big-spender Jeff Fraser is doing his part to boost Sox revenues. He figures he's spent $1,200 beyond the ticket prices - on drinks, food, and parking. "But when people get up here, they don't care how much money they're spending," he says. "Because just being up here is great."