Fenway Park is cozy, some might say claustrophobic, and historic. The Red Sox have been playing there since 1912 -- a span of 95 years. It has hosted 10 World Series, and All-Star Games featuring everyone from Ted Williams to Roberto Clemente to Ken Griffey Jr. Babe Ruth didn't just hit home runs at Fenway -- he pitched there. Fenway had been hosting games for 24 years when the Hall of Fame welcomed its first class.
Coors Field is utterly cavernous and just a little more than a decade old. It opened in 1995, during the Clinton administration. Saturday will bring its first World Series game, and the All-Star Game has come here once.
Fenway brought out James Taylor and Stephen King, while at Coors, you're more likely to see John Elway. Even their names tell a tale. Fenway is old enough and venerated enough that corporate naming rights simply are not an option. Coors is new enough that a corporate name was assumed and even automatic.
In a lot of ways, the contrasts between these two jewel ballparks perfectly sum up the differences between the two cities and franchises. Coors, with its wide expanses of playing field and mountain views, sums up spacious Denver. Fenway, where there's scarcely a spot inside from which you can see outside the park, gives a fine feel for the confined hustle of Boston.
Each stadium has its noteworthy quirks and landmarks. Fenway has the red seat, commemorating a 502-foot homer hit by Williams. Coors has a row of purple seats in the upper deck, indicating exactly 5,280 feet above sea level. Yet neither is overwhelmed by gimmicks. These are both ballparks first, but ballparks that happen to have some twists.
By acclamation, these are the finest hitters' parks in their respective leagues. In point of fact, it's not quite so cut and dried. The game isn't played the way it used to be in either Denver or Boston. Since the installation of a new press box and luxury boxes in the late 1980s, Fenway has tended to play closer to neutral than it did in the days of Jim Rice and Carlton Fisk. It still favors the hitters, but not like it did 20 or 30 years ago.
And as has been discussed ad nauseam, the Rockies have been storing baseballs in a humidor since 2002. That has helped to turn the park from a freakish anomaly to merely an exceptionally good place to hit.
It's how the results are achieved, though, that makes playing in the two ballparks so much different. With the exception of the deep triangle in center field, Fenway is tiny. The Green Monster in left field towers over a short field, while the "Pesky Pole" provides the opportunity to steal a cheap home run to right as well. You don't need speedy corner outfielders on Yawkey Way; you need savvy ones.
On Blake Street, it's the opposite. The outfield measurements are better made in acreage rather than feet to the wall. Now that the humidor reduces the flight of the baseball somewhat, the hassle is the amount of fair territory. Singles, doubles and triples can be found everywhere, and it takes fleet outfielders to patrol all that ground.
"There's a lot of room there," said Red Sox infielder Mike Lowell. It seems like the gaps are huge, and the ball seems to carry just a little bit more than in other parks."
And if the air feels different when you get off a plane from Boston and land in Denver, well, it is. It's probably cleaner, and it's definitely thinner at more than 5,000 feet elevation.
That means that you work harder for the same athletic feats -- like, say, pitching several innings. It also means that breaking balls don't quite break like they do at sea level.
"One of the keys to pitching here is breaking balls are great, but if that's your go-to pitch you're not going to have that much success," said Rockies pitcher Josh Fogg, who will start Game 3. "Because you're not going to get the same break that you would anywhere else. ... You can't rely heavily on a nasty curveball. It's not going to be as nasty every time, and you've got to rely on some other pitches."
So -- they look different. They feel different. They play different. It's one of the beauties of baseball, that the playing field varies from place to place. So vive la difference. It's just about time to play ball.