IT sounds like a Red Sox fan's dream come true: better-than-front-row seats for every single home game.
Trouble is, the view is through a 1-by-9-inch slit.
That's the way Richard Maloney and Chris Elias see the games. They operate the manual scoreboard at Boston's Fenway Park, the one across the bottom of the Green Monster, Fenway's notorious 37-foot-high left-field wall.
"It's really a one-of-a-kind perspective," Elias says. A communications major at the University of New Hampshire, he's in his second year operating the board. "We can see everything and can even hear the outfielders positioning themselves."
He and Maloney keep track of runs, pitching changes, and scores of other league games, sliding 16-inch-high metal numbers through slots in the scoreboard wall. (The lights that indicate balls, strikes, and outs are operated from a control room behind home plate.)
The Green Monster, so named for its color and size, came into being because of the shape of the lot Fenway Park was built on in 1912. The distance to the left field fence is a relatively short 315 feet. To compensate, the monster was put in the way of any ball trying to get out of the park. Up until 1947, it was covered with advertisements.
The operators begin their workday two hours before game time. Upon arrival, Elias and Maloney check the newspaper to see who is pitching in other American League games so they can hang the pitchers' numbers on the scoreboard. The two usually have time to spare, so before a game against the Texas Rangers one day recently, Elias sat in front of the scoreboard to catch some rays. His time in the sun was cut short when the phone rang.
It was Jeff Goldenberg, the director of scoreboard operators at Fenway. The message: Get back inside.
"They aren't that strict with us, but there are guidelines we have to follow," Elias says. "We can't walk on the grass; we can't sit outside; and we can't leave once this door shuts."
Even during rain delays, they have to wait it out inside.
The only access to the Monster is from the field, through a small door that blends in with the scoreboard. Inside, two steps lead down to a long hallway, coated with a layer of dust. Graffiti covers the cement walls. Hundreds of numbered metal plates hang on the walls, and some rest on the floor.
The graffiti include thousands of signatures by players, old and new, plus "Keep this place clean," "Clemens K-20 new record 4/42/86," and "AL East Champs, 9/28/86." Maloney's and Elias's names are scribbled in at least five places.
"The walls are speaking," Goldenberg says. "It's like a little time capsule because there are so many things that are in there. Certain historical-type things happened and notes were made on the walls of those events."
Surrounded by the history of the board and being within steps of the game would thrill any baseball fan, but after spending a couple seasons in the scoreboard, "the novelty kind of wears on you," Maloney says. "It gets depressing in here."
Maloney graduated from Boston College this year. "The team kind of dictates the job," he says. "If they are winning, it's a lot more fun. It's less exciting when they are losing." (The Sox are currently in fifth place.)
Elias says sitting in the Monster for three hours or more is difficult sometimes. "When it's a good day, it's hard to be in here because you want to sit out there in the sun and interact with the fans. It's a lot easier to be in here when it's a rainy day."
The temperature in the Monster is regulated by the weather outside.
"It really doesn't get hot in here, but if it has been hot outside for a few days, it will heat up in here because of the metal scoreboard," Maloney says. "There's no heater back here, so in the early and late months of the season, you really have to bundle up, because it gets so cold."
When boredom strikes, Elias and Maloney take turns watching the game. They may watch the game on television, read the newspaper, or answer the phone. Last year, the two had a baseball-throwing contest to liven up things, dangling a light bulb from a pipe and trying to hit it.
"This is a low-stress job," Elias says, and you need something to keep things exciting. "But there are times when it gets a little hectic in here, when there are other games going on. We have to keep up with the pitchers' numbers and the scores."
"One person can work this, but that's when you go out of your mind," Maloney says.
Mistakes are rare, but they do happen.
"Last year, I put up a zero in the ninth inning and it was only the eighth," Maloney says. "Every now and then you'll put up a wrong number, then Jeff [Goldenberg] will call down and let us know about it. We watch the electronic scoreboard most of the time so we know what's going on."
Despite the job's dull moments, Maloney said there are perks, too.
"It's great talking to the players because they don't see you as a pestering fan," Maloney says. "I know [Oakland Athletics pitcher] Ron Darling's brother, so we had something in common. It's great coming to Fenway."
But after the final pitch is thrown, Elias says, "We're all smiles when we get out."