With considerable help from taxpayers, North American sports teams have prompted investment in new ballpark construction at a record pace over the last twenty years. Michael Ian Borer's Faithful to Fenway explores one sports facility that is an anomaly to this trend.
His text offers a compelling overview of what Fenway Park means to Bostonians and others. He brings thick description to his analysis, unpacking how a broad range of constituencies attach meaning to America's oldest Major League ballpark. Borer's central thesis is that meaning is culturally constructed and a highly fluid process that yields a far from uniform outcome.
He creates a four-part "typology of cultural frames" to isolate the range of opinions individuals have about the future of Fenway Park. (137) Those in the "orthodox" category advocate full preservation, the most popular "conservative" frame supports prudent, well reasoned renovation, the "reform" category prefers a modern Fenway-style replica, while the "radical" frame calls for a modern ballpark that is a complete break from the original Fenway design. (137)
Borer succeeds on many levels as he examines what this ballpark means to a community that is so passionate about it that some individuals have gone as far as to release the ashes of deceased loved ones onto the field. Early in the text, he pushes the theoretical further than I would like, inserting sociology, anthropology, and other disciplines into the analysis continuously. Subsequently, he backs away from routinely connecting each [End Page 193] thought to a mode of scholarship, and the analysis improves as this more comfortable balance unfolds.
He chronicles an organization named Save Fenway Park!, explaining how their passion was instrumental keeping preservation efforts alive when team officials were viscerally committed to replacing the historic ballpark. A change in management created an opportunity for the kind of preservation this organization supported, so Borer chronicles this process.
Borer admits that limited seating space allows the team "to continually raise ticket prices." (168) However, he frequently gives team management the benefit of the doubt, backing off the critical throttle more than I would prefer. If not for the ability to turn the old ballpark's mystique into a profit center, the team would likely abandon the venerable structure for a new one. Borer introduces "devotional consumerism" and "creative consumption" to explain how individuals connect to Fenway Park, two concepts which work to enrich team management in profound ways, though he tends to downplay that issue somewhat. (116) Red Sox President Larry Lucchino introduces the "Fenway Hippocratic Oath" as "do no harm," yet, as someone who presided over the replacement of an aging ballpark in Baltimore, he has been driven by bottom-line profitability in both scenarios. (163)
Borer does a wonderful job of isolating individuals who have varied opinions about Fenway Park, including players, fans, and team management. However, his notion that Fenway is America's most beloved ballpark might be contested in Chicago and elsewhere. The passion of Chicago's Cubs fans, Pittsburgh's Steeler nation, and Wisconsin's Packer backers leads me to believe that the debate is partly about place but also driven by a bundle of other cultural factors. Fenway Park is a remarkable ballpark, but whether it is someone's "favorite" depends on one's perspective. Despite the potential for debate, Borer's text is a solid achievement.