They were 25 feet tall and they were gorgeous. You could see them from the Massachusetts Turnpike, from Lansdowne Street, and from Section 9, Row 12, Seats 1 and 2. You could probably see them from the top of Mount Wachusett if you had a telephoto lens.
They were three giant fiberglass Coke bottles and they were strapped to a light tower that rises from the top of Fenway Park’s historic Green Monster.
That lede you just read is the opening of a Dan Shaugnassey column from March of 1997 when the soda giant Coca-Cola first partnered with the Boston Red Sox for new signage atop the wall in left field, with some revisions where I took artistic liberties.
Shank’s tone in that original article was, believe it or not, cynical. Unheard of sentiment from that guy, I know.
But could you blame him at the time? He noted, “Purists will be sickened.”
“This is not your father’s Fenway anymore.”
He was right at the end of the day.
Fenway Park as it stands now is a completely different beast than what it was years ago–that’s what plenty of resources dedicated to agreements with companies, expanded seating, concert halls, Truly Terraces, and the like will do. What was once a field wrapped in a blank green canvas with hardly any additional signage outside of the scoreboard in left is now filled with ads all over the place. You like King’s Hawaiian rolls? How about this toothpaste from a company you’ve never heard of? You better learn to like ‘em, buckaroo.
One could pin this on the continued persistence of capitalism: faceless corporations clenching their grip tighter and tighter on everything we as a society hold near and dear to our heart, bleeding out any purity just to worship at the altar of the Almighty Dollar. That part is true.
But here’s the thing: I love the Coke bottles. I miss the Coke bottles. I want them back.
If the ads are going to be all over the joint at Jersey Street anyways, wouldn’t it be better if they were fun? The Coke bottles were fun. Cheesy, corny, but fun. One might even say they were goofy.
How cool is it that for about a decade, sluggers like David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, and my namesake Wily Mo Peña (one of these things is not like the otherssssss) got to take aim at giant soda bottles above the most iconic stadium feature in the sport’s history? Sluggers crankin’ rockets and doinkin’ ‘em off of a giant bottle of Coca-Cola: our national pastime meets our national mega-conglomerate. That’s as American as apple pie, baby.
It was a landmark atop another (better) landmark. It added character — even despite it being a corporate tie-in. It was unique to our most beloved ballpark and it’s left an impression that persists to this day. The Portland Sea Dogs, the Sox’s AA minor league affiliate, have installed their own bottles at Hadlock Field, as have backyard recreations of Fenway for whiffle ball. One quick search of “Fenway Coke bottles” on Twitter will lead you to a plethora of positive messages and homages to the fallen containers of carbonated poison.
Though Paper Fenway Park is set in 2022. I had to put the Coke bottles back where they belong! pic.twitter.com/ZUDmb05Ol4— Paper Stadiums (@PaperStadiums) January 20, 2022
Fenway Opening Day 20 years ago was awesome. Brady, Nomar, Coke bottles still above the Monster. Hard to top this. pic.twitter.com/IBNMA4z9S2— Steve Perrault (@Steve_Perrault) April 15, 2022
(Shameless plug at the end there, not sorry!)
Hell, the Coke bottles are associated with the name of this very website that you’ve decided to visit. They were quite literally Over The Monster! This is where I’m contractually obligated to tell you by Vox Media, Inc., that I could get sued if I do not appreciate the beauty of the Coke bottles.
Jokes aside, the bottles in left were another example of a unique feature in a ballpark that’s packed to the gills with landmarks. While not as iconic as the Green Monster itself, the Triangle in center, Pesky’s Pole in right, or perhaps even the Citgo and John Hancock signs — two comparable features — the Coke ads were another quirk in a park that’s full of ‘em.
Those are features of our home that we should appreciate. Baseball lends itself to these differences. Outside of the 90 feet between bases and the 60 feet plus 6 inches that separate pitcher from batter, baseball fields can be made just about however you want within reason (and there’s even some flexibility regarding the 90 feet).
Maybe a flag pole isn’t enough and you’d like monuments honoring players of yesteryear to impede play as well? Yankee Stadium had you covered.
The Polo Grounds in New York and Comerica Park in Detroit have shown how close and how far the foul poles and the power alleys can be to hitters.
Baseball stadiums, inside the field of play and out, should have that character. They shouldn’t become modern-day cookie cutters.
But here we are in late November, after Major League Baseball awarded the 2024 All-Star Game to Globe Life Field, the home of the Texas Rangers. One of the prime events of the season will be hosted at a park that has the charisma of a stale cracker that slid under your couch a week ago. A-listers of the sport will take to this blank and dark monolith to play. The place looks like a giant grill. I’m sick to my stomach.
Be honest with yourself: did you need to take a second to remember what Globe Life Field looks like? Sometimes I do.
Boston? Green Monster. New York? The facade or the home run apple, take your pick. Baltimore and San Diego have their warehouses. The Crawford Boxes and train tracks in Houston are sick. Dodger Stadium is basically built into a damn canyon. San Francisco has their own giant Coca-Cola bottle out in left, along with water in right. Same goes for Pittsburgh on the latter.
Then? Miami got rid of all of the fun stuff! There’s nothing notable there now.
For all of its faults, even the Marlins’ Florida counterpart has some redeeming qualities at their park. Tropicana Field outside of Tampa is like The Room: it’s so bad that it’s good. The Rays basically go with the camp art style with their dome. Sure: the catwalk rings are ridiculous, but they’re also funny and endearing in that sense!
What does Texas have at Globe Life Field that makes you remember it? It may be an objective marvel of modern engineering, but it gives off the vibe of an airport hangar. It is a nothing stadium. Where’s the pizzazz?
Which brings it all back to the departed Coca-Cola bottles in Boston. When the basic composition of the game’s structure lends itself to quirks at its venues, those features should be celebrated. Stadiums for sports such as football and basketball are confined to the strict limits of its playing surfaces. Baseball gets to really explore the studio space, and I think we should all be appreciative of that fact.
We can start by having a Coke and a smile.