University of Arkansas System
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Henry David Thoreau, Less is More, and Fenway Park
Henry David Thoreau, one of America’s most well-known New Englanders, would most probably be disappointed with recent proposals to dismantle Fenway Park in order to construct a more profitable baseball park. The past two decades have witnessed a pervasive sports trend in which professional sports franchises have sought to maximize revenues by abandoning or tearing down old stadiums in order to construct modern stadiums that incorporate a variety of other income-generating facilities into the larger sports stadium design.
In Toronto, for instance, hotels and department stores have been attached to the baseball stadium in order for the owners of the Toronto Blue Jays to generate more profits through the creation of hotel and shopping markets. In the Bronx, to take another example, the venerable Yankees of New York made a decision to abandon the mythical park known as Yankees stadium in order to construct a larger and more extravagant baseball stadium right next to the old stadium.
Many times, the pursuit of greater profits in this respect involves the use of essentially extortionary methods by greedy owners of sports franchises in order to force municipalities to allocate scare tax dollars toward the renovation or construction of sports facilities under a threat that the sports franchise will move to a new city willing to spend tax dollars on their behalf.
The role that greed plays in this trend cannot be denied; indeed, with respect to the Red Sox, they have recently broken the curse of the Bambino by finally prevailing in the World Series and consistently sell the majority of their tickets in addition to substantial amounts of merchandise. It is unquestionable, for instance, that “The ballpark was packed with avid fans, as it always is” (Dreier 18) and that the Red Sox are one of America’s most recognizable brand names.
Nonetheless, despite an extraordinarily loyal fan base and a baseball park considered one of the most aesthetically pleasing in all of sport, the Red Sox ownership is determined to raze Fenway Park in order to construct a completely new stadium. The ownership’s primary rationale is that “the current park, with 33,871 seats (the smallest in the major leagues), is “economically obsolete” and that they need the additional revenue from luxury boxes, stadium seats, and the other frills of newfangled stadiums in order to “compete” with teams that have them” (Dreier 18).
Proposals for renovations have been rejected by Red Sox ownership on the grounds that a new stadium is cheaper than renovations. What emerges from proposals to destroy Fenway Park in order to construct a new stadium is fundamentally a portrait of greed. Ownership is not satisfied with current profits, even though they have proven more than adequate to compete, and one is left to wonder how much is too much and whether the smaller park might be a critical reason underlying the Red Sox mystique.
Thoreau would likely be highly critical of such proposals and the proffered rational. Thoreau: Personal Style, Less is More, and Simplicity Henry David Thoreau’s mystique is intimately connected to his highly personalized writing style and his philosophical orientation. In terms of his writing style, for instance, Thoreau prefers to speak directly to his readers rather than to rely on third person narrative techniques. To this end, Thoreau rather consistently writes in the first person in a way that creates a type of conversational dialogue between the writer and the reader.
In creating the context of his work Life in the Woods, Thoreau employs this first person conversation style by writing “When I wrote the following pages…I lived alone, in the woods, a mile from my neighbor, in a house which I had built myself” and further that “I earned my labor by the work of my hands alone. I lived there for two years and two months” (n. p. ). In addition to employing a heavily dependent first person type of narrative, Thoreau also relies on personal observations and experiences in order to test and to support his theories and his conclusions.
His is a uniquely hands-on type of narrative in which he derives his insights from personal experiences rather than from hearsay taken from the observations and experiences of other people. To be sure, Thoreau does at times reference the theories and the works of other people. He is obviously a well-read writer and he cites proverbs and theories from people as diverse as famous Buddhists, Hindus, and Western writers. All of these outside references, however, are structurally subordinate to his own observations, theoretical premises, and proffered conclusions.
This type of first person narrative gives rise to what is extraordinarily analogous to a type of personal and philosophical quest in which Thoreau appears to be challenging conventional wisdom in several respects. Thus, in addition to a writing style that is deeply personal, Thoreau also succeeds in allowing the reader to share in his journey or quest. This is because his writing is richly descriptive in a way that makes it nearly impossible to sever the descriptions of New England’s natural environment from the philosophical and economic assumptions and conclusions that he is simultaneously addressing, considering, and commenting upon.
At the same that he discusses the economics of constructing his house he also describes in excruciating detail the type of natural materials used for the construction and the benefits of understanding the qualities of these raw materials in order to most effectively construct his new home. Nature, in effect, represents both a source of intellectual illumination and a liberty to live life in a manner than obviates destructive human characteristics such as greed and desperation in the face of perceived deprivations. He remarks in this respect that I go and come with a strange liberty in Nature, a part of herself (n. p. ).
Thoreau’s writing style, in sum, is deeply personal and it invites the reader to join his search for meaning in a world in which human existence cannot be severed from nature. Although he is most well-known as a literary philosopher, a careful review of Thoreau’s writing also demonstrates that he comments to a great extant on economics as well. He basically argues that human beings have made daily life too complicated. It has become too complicated because people desire things such as fame, money, and extravagance in ways that have no limitation.
There is no final stage of happiness, people always want more, and as a result people are destined to be unhappy because there is no comfortable or moderate level of accomplishment. He states in this respect that “Most men…through mere ignorance or mistake, are so occupied with the facetious cares and superfluously coarse labours of life that its finer fruits cannot be plucked by them” (n. p. ). People therefore need to set modest goals consistent with nature in ways that will result in contentment and moderation.
He characterizes this as a simple approach to life in which happiness is best achieved by avoiding extreme desires. Desperation, whether in terms of fame or profit, is therefore a destructive and should be avoided. In addition to being well-known as a philosopher, there is much economic discussion and wisdom in Thoreau’s writings. The fundamental economic theme advocated by Thoreau is that “When it comes to economic consumption, less is more” (Cafaro 26). A desperate desire for public acclaim and wealth wastes natural resources and is unnecessary to the attainment of a successful and happy life.
In short, Thoreau’s personalized writing style functions as a type of personal appeal for human beings to become happier and more self-sufficient by using resources wisely and by being content with reasonable limits in daily life rather than pursuing ever higher levels of artificial accumulation. Fenway Park through Thoreau’s Eyes Upon learning of the proposed demolition of Fenway Park, I decided to pack up my backpack with some clothes and camped in the visitor’s bullpen. It was my desire to learn whether the players and the fans were happy with the stadium.
I spent afternoons in the parking lot, attending tailgate parties with fans, and evenings in my perch in the bullpen chatting with home and visiting players. I did not have to purchase tickets, the owners of the Red Sox having invited me to live in the bullpen for a month hoping that I would lend their proposals a vote of confidence after personally witnessing the ostensibly decrepit state of the famed stadium, and I crafted a tent from practice uniforms and baseball bats in the evening to shield me from the chilly climate of Boston’s evenings and early mornings.
Shelter and access secure, I turned my attentions to warming my body and found that the natural confines of Boston were more than adequate for purposes of sustenance. The fans offered hot dogs during games, hamburgers during tailgate parties, and vendors were always kind enough to provide me with care packages on days that the Red Sox played away or had open dates. I was, in sum, housed and fed and free to engage in my observations of the fans and players in Fenway Park. Most players and fans seemed genuinely happy and content, subject of course to the scores of individual games, and as I sat in the bullpen I thought I began to understand.
It is true that Fenway Park is an extraordinarily old baseball stadium, that it is not as shiny or polished as other stadiums in the league, and yet there was a natural and pristine quality that seemed in many ways to transcend contemporary baseball. The morning dew clung to the outfield grasses of green and contributed to the firm natural turf in a way that allowed the outfielders to maintain a firm footing rather than sliding or slipping in pursuit of line drives slapped by hitters into the gaps. The grass dried in the afternoons and was soft enough to cushion a player’s fall if diving for a pop-up became necessary.
The grasses of Fenway were both aesthetically pleasing, a part of Boston’s natural environment, and friend rather than for players tumbling to the ground. It occurred to me one early morning that other stadiums had torn up their natural grass and replaced it with Astroturf and other forms of artificial grass. The motives were fundamentally economic in nature, premised in an accountant’s calculation that maintenance fees would be cheaper so that profits could be maximized, and the results were disappointing. These artificial turfs faded in color and peeled.
Fans and players complained. The sun glared off the turf and blinded fans who had paid good money for tickets. The smell of the grass was gone and the fields became plastic stages rather than natural turfs. More, the comforting textures of grass fields torn up, players began to suffer more injuries and more serious types of injuries on artificial turf. Under the turf, another cost-saving measure, was a concrete and hard-rubber base. Players suffered ligament tears previously uncommon on grass fields and bones were more frequently broken when players have fallen on the grass.
The turf is unnatural, it is unforgiving, and it does not interact naturally with the human body. This illustrates the danger of change premised on profit without a due regard being given to other salient factors. The artificial turf denigrated the visual aesthetic of watching a baseball game in person and led to decreased ticket sales; in the same way, increased injuries led to more expensive medical bills and lost playing time that imposed costs far in excess of the initial savings envisioned when the grass was torn out and the artificial turf was installed.
Alterations have consequences and it is difficult to imagine fixing something that is not broken. The grass in Fenway represents the purity of the game and is firmly etched in the minds of all that have visited as fans or played as players at Fenway Park. Fans and players are satisfied, the quality of the game is intact, and the ownership’s preoccupation with profit must be analyzed in light of the downfalls experienced in the case of artificial turf. There is more to baseball, both as a sport and as entertainment, that size and glamour.
The beauty is in the finer details and the owners would be well-advised to consider the risks of destroying a beautiful thing for profit alone. It would also be wise to consider the consequences of replacing the lovingly certain with the uncertain. A peek into the stands demonstrates fans who are committed, loyal, and knowledgeable. There is a sea of Red Sox colors, families cheering and grimacing, and a uniformity of aspiration that seems difficult if not impossible to attain in outside settings.
These fans are possessed with a common cause, the success of their beloved Red Sox, and this singularness of purpose transcends differences in their individual lives and diverse backgrounds and personalities. Fenway is a unifying force, it has since its inception been a unifying force for the people of New England generally and Bostonians more specifically, and this unity has been cultivated and reinforced by human fascination by such structures as the Green Monster in left field and such Red Sox heroes as Ted Williams.
One might copy the Green Monster, a short but towering fence in left field, but it would never be the same in a new field. More, given ownership’s perverse fascination with profit, it is plausible that the new left field fence would be lowered to accommodate more seats capable of selling more tickets. A new park would become standard rather than distinctive and one of the park’s major draws would be eliminated. The same is true with the way in which memories of past heroes would be dished; ted Williams batted over .
400 while walking and running within the confine of Fenway Park; his memory would fade with the demolished park. Heroes and physical attractions are attached to Fenway park and cannot be duplicated. Finally, there are questions pertaining to audience; as a writer, I am well aware of the fact that audiences are truer indicators of fame and reception than profits. What quality of fan, for instance, shall be attracted to a modern stadium with modern and non-baseball related amenities? Will the common man be priced out of attending Red Sox games in a sport cathedral dedicated to profit rather than community and sport?
These are questions worth considering; they are worth considering because, in truth, the fame of the Red Sox is dependent on its natural environment. This natural environment, in turn, includes the history of the franchise, the intimacy that Fenway Park cultivates between fan and franchise, and an audience that is fervently dedicated to the team. Removing Fenway Park may very well destroy these symbiotic relations and taint the brand value of the Boston Red Sox. Tearing down Fenway Park for a new stadium is like tearing down the forests for a new housing development. Nothing will ever be the same.