Friday, September 08, 2000

Watery Beer

When I was growing up, I was constantly told to take care of my things. My baseball cards, my records, my hip/trendy clothing, my posters; you know the things. These things were generally inexpensive items that seemed to be my most important possession at the time of purchase. I couldn't possibly live without them. As time went by, they gave way to other important possessions.

Inevitably, when the baseball cards and records were mixed in with dirty laundry and poorly-hidden empty beer cans my Mother disposed of them. And as weekend house parties, underage visits to nightclubs, and drug-addled concerts replaced more wholesome activities, the clothing vanished or was destroyed. Today, the advent of eBay and the ferocious pace of retroactivity have made many of those lost items incredibly valuable. But, that's what happens when you don't take care of your stuff -- you lose it.

Each time I asked my Mother for another item that I could not afford, I was reminded of all the items I had to have in the past that eventually made their way to the junk heap. Some items I got, some I didn't. That's the way it goes.

Owning things is a responsibility that most young people never appreciate. It is rare to meet a child who truly understands the value of his or her possessions. Rarely does a young person know that the PeeWee Herman talking doll will be worth a fortune if it remains in its box and is kept in pristine condition for 15 years. Or that the 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey, Jr. card which cost them seven cents will be worth $100 in a few short years. Of course, the kid will place the card in a plastic holder right away, but eventually the protected piece of cardboard will end up under a can of Coke which will spill and the card will be valueless. The doll will be taken out of the box and returned to the box with great care, but a few years later a couple of joints will be smoked, a couple of lines will be sniffed, a couple of shots will be drunk and the doll will become the victim of a party prank and end up in the trash.

Is this one of the lessons we learn growing up? That by taking care of our stuff, we will be rewarded with great profit and years of joy?

I grew-up less than a mile from Boston's Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox. As a kid, I spent uncountable Summer Saturdays sneaking into the park. As a teenager, I became a vendor selling grossly over-priced Coke and ice cream and hotdogs to fans. As an adult, I remain a loyal fan and continue to attend games as often as possible.

Fenway Park is one of those gems that makes 20th Century Americana what it is. It is a throwback to a simpler, if dreadfully oppressive and uninteresting, time. There is nothing comfortable about Fenway Park. It is small and cramped. There is insufficient space for services, facilities, and concessions. There are enough obstructed views to give even the sloppiest architect nightmares. It's a mess. It needs to be replaced. I hate the thought of it being destroyed, but it is simply reality.

Old things are hard to maintain -- it's simply a matter of the aging process. The older something gets, the harder it is to keep it in good condition. But the manner in which we maintain our stuff is reflective of our character and what we value. If our apartment is a filthy mess, we cannot invite acquaintances in to share our lives; nor can we find the things we need. If our clothes are not laundered and cared for they fall apart and we look shabby. If our roof is leaking and we fail to fix it, the house and its contents can be destroyed. If we do not oil our leather jackets and boots, they crack and look like junk. If we don't change the fluids in our automobile, the engine will seize and be very expensive to replace. It's a maintenance issue.

Fenway Park is a nice thing to have. In the scheme of owning things, it would be nice to own Fenway Park. Sure, it must be frustrating to own it and continue to compete in today's baseball market. But, I'd love to own it. I think I'd take are of it.

The current owners of Fenway Park have been pleading their case for years. It goes something like this: "The Boston Red Sox is an invaluable institution in the fair City of Boston. Boston is a world-class city, with a world-class baseball team in a second-rate facility. If the Red Sox can't build a new Fenway, they might have to move to a different city." You've heard some version of the song and dance.

I happen to agree with the owners of the Red Sox! Fenway does need to be replaced. One trip to Baltimore's Camden Yards will convince the most diehard pro-Fenway fan (which I once was) that the Sox deserve better.

The owners of Fenway Park are asking the City and Commonwealth to fork over a fortune in taxpayer dollars. It is common for the government to give a sports team financial assistance, but the Red Sox are really pushing the envelope. The amounts they are seeking are astronomical! Much of the needed money is for the purchase of the land which makes up the new site.

This land has a colorful history. Over the years the value of this land has been destroyed because it is next to Fenway Park and the Red Sox are bad neighbors. I owned a condominium on Boylston Street for a number of years and the Red Sox never made any real efforts to minimize the impact they had on the surrounding area. The Red Sox are very, very bad neighbors.

Non-sports businesses have had an impossible time remaining in the area and as they abandoned the neighborhood the land was bought up and turned into parking lots. The deeds of the land show that it is owned by various trusts and corporations. Who are these owners? Not surprisingly, they are trusts and corporations owned by and benefitting various people affiliated with the current owners of the Red Sox or by their regional nemesis who also owns souvenir and food service businesses supported almost exclusively by Red Sox fans. So we have a bunch of rich guys asking the taxpayers to buy this land at inflated "market" prices then give it back to them for free so that they can build a ballpark!

If you owned Fenway Park, what are the things that would need to be taken care of? The walls, roofs, floors, seats, plumbing, electrical, field, locker rooms, dugouts, lights, audiovisual systems, scoreboards, security, media facilities, offices, parking lots, staff, and FANS! All of these things need to be taken care of, but without the fans there is nobody in the seats!

Now, let's put this situation into the paradigm of a child, The Red Sox, requesting yet another valuable item from its parents, YOU, the taxpayer.

Have you been to Fenway Park recently? (And I'm not talking about the 600 Club here.) It's a mess! Not because of its age, either! It's a mess because the children are not taking care of their things. It is grossly understaffed, it's filthy, it needs painting, ceilings are falling, the food being sold is atrocious and overpriced, the underpaid workers are surly and unhelpful, and most infuriating: the beer is watery and served in tiny cups at high prices!

A cup of beer is one of those items that is so interwoven in the day at the ballpark' experience as to make sobriety at Fenway seem almost absurd. A hot dog and a cup of beer are a part of the baseball experience! A cup of beer at Fenway is an embarrassment! Forget the fact that they do not deliver beer to your seat, that's another issue altogether!

I remember drinking Metbrew, a near-beer, as a young teenager, and my memories of that are of a full-bodied stout when compared to the crap poured in the friendly confines. In Minneapolis, I was once served 3.2 beer, a reduced-alcohol concoction which is closely related in flavor to whatever fluid is being passed-off as beer at Fenway.

If you owned a ballpark, would you serve bad beer? If you decided to sell bad beer, would you make it the only beer available at the tap? No! Of course not! When the owners of Fenway Park select beer as a beverage, do you think they consume the swill they serve at the ballpark? No! Of course not! Well, then why are we being sold this beer for five bucks a cup when we watch the Red Sox? Because the children are not taking care of their things.

If you let your baseball stadium fall into gross disrepair and you treated your guests poorly, would your parents buy you a new one? No!

Should there be a new Fenway Park? Yes! Should we taxpayers, as parents, give the Red Sox, our children, a new ballpark? No! They have not taken care of their things and they should not be given new things! Let them smash their giant piggy-bank and build one themselves.