|Tuesday, May 13
Updated: May 14, 2:00 PM ET
The best seats in the hallowed house
By Wayne Drehs
BOSTON -- Watch the oversized slugger step into the box and, immediately, you are conflicted. Part of you hopes he launches one, catapulting the ball toward your left-field perch. But part hopes the ball never comes close. That you never have to decide: Do I stick out my bare hand and try to catch the screaming liner? Or cowardly duck and hide?
At the last second, you yank your hands away and the ball bounces off the ledge in front of you and back onto the field below. You blew it.
"If I woulda known you were gonna do that, I woulda shoved you out of duh way and caught it myself," says Bob Cox, the tall, bearded and bulky 39-year-old construction worker sitting next to you. "What are you, some kinda loosah?"
Welcome to the hottest seats in baseball -- 37 feet above the ground, 310 feet from home plate -- 273 of the coolest barstools in sports, on top of the most famous wall in sports, Fenway Park's Green Monster.
Wrigley may have its rooftops, Bank One may have its swimming pool and Sky Dome may have its hotel, but only Fenway offers an experience like this. From this distance, the first row of the Monster is closer to home plate than the left fielder stands in most major-league parks.
And while the home run balls that bleacher bums chase during batting practice at Wrigley are typically on the descent, the ones that scale the Monster are often still climbing -- quickly.
Sitting in the Monster section during batting practice, you don't get a view of the action -- you're in the action.
"It's incredible," says 36-year-old Dawn Hokes, who brought her 12-year-old son Adam here. "They just keep coming, one after another. And you've got all these grown men chasing around $10 baseballs like they're gonna get a free chicken leg if they catch one."
Just below, not only can you see Red Sox outfielder Manny Ramirez, you can hear him grunt as he leaps to haul in a tailing fly ball. You can analyze the grass stains on the back of his leg. You can see the Reebok vector on his cleats.
During a recent practice, a ball smacked a kid in the face. Blood gushed everywhere. But how great is the view? How memorable the experience? After being carried to the first aid station to have the bleeding stopped, the kid returned to his seat in time for the first pitch -- never mind the broken nose.
"He didn't want to leave," said an usher who worked that day. "He wasn't going anywhere -- no matter how he felt."
Since Fenway has the major's smallest capacity with fewer than 35,000 seats, Red Sox management added the Monster section, as well as a handful of other close-to-the-action seats in hopes of generating an estimated $10 million in additional revenue. Tickets to one of the 273 seats atop the Monster sell for $50 a piece. Another 100 standing room seats sell for $20 each.
It's easy to understand why. From here, you can reach out and touch the foul pole that Carlton Fisk gestured to pleadingly as his home run ball sailed fair during Game 6 of the 1975 World Series. Knock over your beer and it's possible that it's spilling on the spot where Bucky Dent's famous home run landed and vaulted the Yankees into the 1978 ALCS.
The section has its own concession stands, its own bathroom. Swivel your barstool around and there's a panaramic view of downtown Boston. Down below on Landsdowne Street, baseball fans, club-goers and general passers-by envy you. During a game against the Minnesota Twins last Friday, some female club-goers walking on Landsdowne flashed the Monster Crew with a quick lift of their tops.
And if you're lucky enough to score a seat in the front row, only an 18-inch ledge keeps your beer from tipping on top of Ramirez's head. Or you from getting a face-first taste of the warning track.
"The perspective is unique," Red Sox president Larry Lucchino said. "Where can you be this high, this close, in this historic of a setting?"
'Dude, I'm on the Monstah'
"Dude, I'm on the Monstah. I just touched the Monstah."
During a sun-splashed Saturday afternoon, 23-year-old Connell Clark used his cell phone to tease a buddy back home in Springfield. His friend elected to attend a nephew's first birthday party rather than join his buddies on the Monster.
"You're a fool, man," Clark said in a voicemail message. "That kid ain't even gonna remember his first birthday, never mind whether or not you were there. But that's OK -- we'll bring some home run balls home for you."
On a bone-chilling night some 16 hours earlier, another fan barehanded Minnesota Twins outfielder Matt LeCroy's game-tying home run, but ignored the peer pressure to throw the ball back onto the field. Then, his cell phone rang. It was a friend, who had seen him on TV and knew what the fans were trying to do.
"My buddy says the hell with you," the guy yelled to the heckling crowd. "I'm keeping this thing."
The players seem as mesmerized as the fans. The normally shy Ramirez regularly turns and waves. Even smiles. Center fielder Johnny Damon does the same. LeCroy tossed baseballs up the 37-foot wall to little kids before Saturday's game. And Minnesota reliever LaTroy Hawkins took a good 15-minutes out of batting practice to share a friendly banter with Clark.
Clark: "I played college ball. I'll be up there in two years."
Hawkins: "Oh yeah? Where? An NAIA school? Show me your baseball card."
Clark: "Baseball card? Where's your degree?"
Hawkins, laughing: "Man, I make $3 million a year. I don't need a degree."
That one impressed even the Red Sox nation. But Hawkins wasn't done. After shagging a fly ball, he turned to Clark and said, "Since you're never going to see one of these for real, here, catch."
And after the game, Hawkins spoke glowingly about Fenway's newest addition.
"I love it," he said. "I think it looks great. I gotta get up there sometime and see the view for myself.
"It really adds some life to left field, instead of that boring old wall sitting there. I had a blast with those guys today."
'I couldn't get my wallet out fast enough'
"You talk about good fortune," Clark said. "Without that guy, I wouldn't be here."
Jeff Pierce, a 35-year-old from Pittsfield, showed up at 8 a.m. before Saturday's game with the Twins, hoping to obtain one of the 24 standing-room seats. He was surprised to find out that four front-row seats were unexpectedly available -- if he was interested.
"Are you kidding me? I couldn't get my wallet out fast enough," he said.
Pierce ended up catching three home run balls during batting practice, one with his hat. "I tell everybody, 'Get out of my way, I've got a kid I gotta get a ball for,' " he joked.
The Monster is the place to be. The section has been open for only 15 games and, already, celebrities like actor/director Rob Reiner and Patriots wide receiver Troy Brown have traded grandstand box seats for a view from above. VIPs from the luxury boxes try to scoot down with their wine glasses mid-game to get a peak.
The Red Sox hand out special credentials to Green Monster ticket holders, so security can easily identify who belongs and who doesn't.
"I don't tell anybody where I work," said an usher, "because everybody I know would be asking me to sneak them up here. And I'd be out of a job."
Said another ticket broker: "Try us in June."
Out of 12 street scalpers stopped on Saturday only one had Monster tickets. He wanted $140 apiece. On eBay, tickets are available, but are again pricey. Expect to pay $150 a piece, unless the Yankees are in town, in which case tickets are selling for as much as $250 each.
It's the hottest ticket in town, if not in baseball.
"It's a lot of cash," said 25-year-old Kevin Connor, who flew from Miami and spent $165 for Monster tickets to a recent game. "But man, this is wicked sick. Anybody who's sitting anywhere else is a sucker."
Wayne Drehs is a staff writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org