TJ Bergeron stands for the national anthem in the big spenders section of McCoy Stadium — his box seat, just a few rows off the field, behind home plate, cost just $10.
TJ Bergeron stands for the national anthem in the big spenders section of McCoy Stadium — his box seat, just a few rows off the field, behind home plate, cost just $10. Tovia Smith/NPR
They are the "boys of summer," and going to the ballpark to see them play is the dream of many kids.
But this summer, "the boys" may not be in the budget.
At Boston's Fenway Park, for example, even standing room can run $50 a ticket. The dream seats behind home plate or in a luxury box run over $300. (And good luck getting them for face value!)
Then, of course, there's parking, programs and food — anything from a Fenway frank to carved prime rib. In the end, taking a family of four to Fenway can cost you from $300 to thousands of dollars.
But if you want to be taken out to a ballgame, without being taken to the cleaners, there is another way.
Just close your eyes and listen to the vendors beckon: "Programs! Getcha programs!" Feel the hard stadium seats and sticky floors, grab a hot dog and cold beer, stand up and sway with the crowd to the national anthem.
OK, so it's not Sheryl Crow singing that anthem. And if you open your eyes, there's no Green Monster, no Dice-K and no Big Papi.
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But it is "game on" with some 10,000 die-hard Sox fans. "This is our Fenway, right here," says Cathy Gorman of McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, R.I. "Rock on McCoy Stadium!"
Welcome to the minor leagues. It's a Sox-Yankees showdown.
That is, the Yankees' farm team from Scranton, Pa., versus the Paw Sox from Pawtucket.
Gorman splurged on box seats for the big game. "The best 10 dollars you'll spend," she says.
Regular seats are just $6, and kids' tickets are $4.
"How do you like them apples?" says 83-year-old Ethel Kenney, laughing. "This is as good as it gets, baby!"
Indeed, compared with Fenway, everything here is peanuts. "We got a full meal for $5.50," says 34-year-old Kip Lewis, a high school Spanish teacher from Wrentham, Mass. "That's a hot dog, chips and a drink."
Even baseball caps that sell at Fenway for $35 are just $23 here.
"You don't have to mortgage the house to go see those professional ... what do I want to call them ... prima donnas," says Floyd Narcisse from Seakonk, Mass., who is sitting with a neighbor and his grandson in prime seats right on the third-base line.
Instead of the senators or movie stars who sit behind home plate at Fenway, the big shots in the front row here are guys like Narcisse, a high school basketball coach, and 23-year-old Zane Fitzgerald, an out-of-work sales guy.
"I can reach down and touch the players right now," says Fitzgerald. "I can hear what they're talking about in the on-deck circle. You can't hear that at Fenway, unless you want to spend $500 on a seat!"
"Its really cool," says TJ Bergeron, a fifth-grader from Cumberland, R.I. "Like you can tell if it's a knuckleball or not."
So they're great seats at a great price. But to what? Could "McCoy" possibly offer the same thrill as the "real McCoy?" Not entirely.
"Fenway has the whole mystique. There's not a lot of mystique here," says Christine McCormack. "Fenway is Fenway."
Gorman disagrees. "This is better than Fenway. ... Exciting? Yes, it's exciting. We got a 3-3 game right now," she says, and, as if on cue, is distracted by the action on the field. "Oh, noooo!" she groans. "It's in the air! He missed it! Right through his hands!"
In some ways, many fans see the teams as more exciting, since every player is on the brink of the chance of a lifetime.
Yankees pitcher Zach Kroenke signs autographs and poses for photographs with fans who often don't even know his name.
Yankees pitcher Zach Kroenke signs autographs and poses for photographs with fans who often don't even know his name. Tovia Smith/NPR
"It's like scouting," says Narcisse. "You say, 'Well, I think this guy is gonna make it to the big club.' You try to see who is going to be the next Kevin Youkilis." Or the next Ted Williams, Kenney suggests.
Finally, in the seventh inning, a sac fly to left, and the Sox are up again by one and the crowd goes wild as the classic Fenway favorite "Sweet Caroline" blares through the ballpark. Then, when Pawtucket finally pulls ahead in the eighth and gets the win, the celebration is no minor thing.
"Awesome game," says 8-year-old Connor Perry from Sturbridge, Mass. "Best game ever."
Fans immediately begin to swarm down to the edge of the field and outside the clubhouse door.
"Can I get a picture with you?" asks one boy.
"Can you sign please?" calls out another, holding a baseball and a Sharpie. "Mine, too!" calls another.
It may be the best part of this bargain — that fans can get right up close and personal with the players. It doesn't seem to matter one bit that most have no idea whom they are talking to.
"Are you a pitcher?" asks Michael Dutka, a young fan from Gloucester, Mass., while lowering a pen and paper in a plastic sand pail from a balcony down to a player who happens to be passing by on the field.
It's even more confusing after players are out of uniform and coming out of the locker room in their street clothes. "Are you Paw Sox or Yankees?" 14-year-old Chapin Randlett asks a player.
"These kids love you!" says Deb McDole to a passing Yankee. "They don't know your name, but they love you!"
Kip Lewis, a 34-year-old high school Spanish teacher from Wrentham, Mass., got a hot dog, chips and a drink for $5.50 at McCoy Stadium.
Kip Lewis, a 34-year-old high school Spanish teacher from Wrentham, Mass., got a hot dog, chips and a drink for $5.50 at McCoy Stadium. Tovia Smith/NPR
Turns out McDole is no different. She hands a pen to the player and asks him to autograph her chest as she asks him his name.
The player, Yankees pitcher Zach Kroenke, a polite 25-year-old from Omaha, Neb., laughs and signs. "There are times when you can go to a ballpark and no one knows who you are," Kroenke says. But when you get treated like a rock star, he says, "it makes you feel good."
The players may not be superstars, but these kids are very aware that they could very well be future stars. "They could be the next Big Papi or Babe Ruth," says 12-year-old Kailee Britto of Plymouth, Mass. "If they become famous you can make a lot of money off the autograph — when it becomes worth more," says 10-year-old Emerson Randlett.
Turns out getting a bargain on a ballgame is nothing compared with the thrill of believing you might have just met the next baseball legend, and you can say "you knew him when."