On the outside, Feeding the Green Monster is a book devoted to the trials and tribulations of the 2000 Boston Red Sox. Through all the ups and downs – close wins and heartbreaking losses – we, the reader, are put in the driver’s seat and led down a path unseen by most of those who have not followed the Sox with a Cursed devotion known only to the residents of the north-east sector of the United States.
Like Jim Bouton – and his groundbreaking expose Ball Four – before him, ESPN.com’s Rob Neyer spent an entire season following a major league baseball team; and by living roughly four blocks away from the ballpark, attempted to shed some light on the mystique involved with sports in the greater New England area. From personal interviews of lifelong fans – sharing their favorite Fenway Moments – to spending a night in the ballpark itself, Neyer lived and breathed Red Sox baseball for six consecutive months: attending all 81 home games, lock, stock, and barrel.
However, in spite of what many might have expected from this book (which began oh-so long ago), Feeding the Green Monster is less an account of the Red Sox’ season – analysis, and all – than it is the personal diary of an outsider.
Apart from the occasional history lesson involving Pesky’s Pole or the pre-game crowds on Lansdowne Street (there are none), Neyer reveals a good deal of information about himself – showing his personality through a strong, yet colloquial, writing style.
Through Feeding the Green Monster we discover Neyer’s affinity for Woody Allen movies, knuckleball pitchers, and the TV show Seinfeld – not to mention his brief military background (well, the Army Reserve) as well as his vegetarianism (meaning that he never eats hot dogs at a baseball game, even in the freezing cold).
While some might call this aspect the downfall of the book – unfocused and self-indulgent – Feeding the Green Monster operates well as a window into the life of a man, first, and a fan, second. Granted, some of the information regarding his love life might have been best left on the cutting room floor: but the material has noble intentions, and still manages to relate to the theme of ‘Living Boston Baseball’, even at it’s most unexpected moments:
“At this point, I’ve concluded that the ideal mate would not necessarily love baseball, but rather would love me enough to at least try to enjoy baseball as she does any number of other pleasant diversions. She wouldn’t know anything about the Infield Fly Rule, but if it came up when you were at the ballpark, she’d ask about it, and eventually master the vagaries of the rule because she understands that the Infield Fly is a big part of your life. As sad as that might seem.” (pg. 35)
With that said, the majority of Feeding the Green Monster is not concerned with Rob Neyer the troubled-lover, rather it is concerned with Rob Neyer the devoted fan – and his opinions on the city, and thus the ballpark, as a whole (a discussion that most of you probably saw coming from a mile away).
Needless to say, for those of you who do not read his ESPN.com column, Rob is an unabashed traditionalist – and supports the preservation of Olde Fenway Park. To him, Boston is place far too rich with history to be infiltrated with another “Mallpark” – and should be treated as the landmark it is rather than the eyesore some people want it to be.
Nevertheless, beyond all the conspiracy theories and anti-Fenway propaganda put out by the Red Sox’ front office, it is the very history behind the Ballpark in Beantown that gives Neyer’s book it’s strength. From visiting the site of the old Boston Braves, to riding in a car with local scalpers “Kevin” and “Tommy”, Neyer succeeds in giving the fans a voice – and provides a legitimate feel for the lives and attitudes of the Red Sox’ hopeful. In fact, the highlight of many sections throughout the book are the quietly candid “Fenway Moments”, taken from men and women around the ballpark who share their experiences as fans from days gone by:
“…What had been a funereal atmosphere, framed fittingly by the weather, turned electric. By the time the late innings rolled around, the Red Sox were comfortably ahead and the Yankees irretrievably behind. The season would not end, not yet. | The Sox of that era would, just before the ninth inning, list the next home game on the scoreboard. And when Luis Tiant began his warm-up tosses, we read: RED SOX NEXT HOME GAME TOMORROW VS. NEW YORK 2:30PM. | The joint erupted. Tears came to my eyes again. That straightforward announcement, in that context, had more meaning than the half hour’s worth of fireworks or ‘WE WIN!!!’ histrionics or ‘Who Let the Dogs Out?’ barking that would greet such a victory today … Because baseball, and especially Red Sox baseball, is not designed to break your heart.” (124)
Rob Neyer’s Feeding the Green Monster is far from a perfect book, and critics will no doubt harp on his – at times – lack of focus as a major problem. Nevertheless, in and of itself, Feeding the Green Monster exceeds all other self-written chronicles I’ve come across in my short lifetime – and proved to be one of the quickest reads known to man. From the statistical analysis, to the brief history lessons, to the personal accounts of a life less ordinary, Neyer keeps us interested in what’s going on, and – if nothing else – finds a way to look at baseball from a number of perspectives.
Although, in many ways, the Boston Red Sox fell short in what was supposed to be a very promising 2000 season; the same should not be said about Rob Neyer’s journal chronicling a memorable summer in the city. Though uneven in places, few books have done a better job at guiding the reader through a storybook world like Fenway Park, and even fewer have been successful at taming the beast known simply as: The Green Monster.