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Official Review by Paul Baker, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Standing in the shadows of Harvard Stadium, Joseph J. O’Donnell Field is part of the larger Soldier Field athletic complex, which houses the majority of venues for Harvard’s NCAA-leading 41 varsity teams. Formerly known as Soldier’s Field, O’Donnell Field has been the home of Harvard baseball since 1898. The field was rechristened after Harvard class of 1967 alum, baseball captain, and football team standout Joseph O’Donnell in 1997. Mr. O’Donnell donated $2.5 million to the baseball program in 1995, allowing the university to hire a full-time baseball coach for the first time. He also donated an additional $30 million to the university in 2012.
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There is food everywhere at O'Donnell Field, you just can't have any of it. Tents are set up all over the Soldier Field complex. The various booster clubs have grills set up near the respective arenas to feed the hungry athletes after the completion of their respective games or to enjoy after the game. Smells of barbeque fill the air, making it a cruel trick that there are no concession stands anywhere. Experienced Crimson fans simply bring in their own food to eat at the games.
Harvard boasts an NCAA-best 41 different Division One varsity programs. Many of these teams play their home games in the Soldier Field Athletic Complex, located across the Charles River from the Harvard campus. During a spring weekend afternoon, it is not unusual to see several Crimson squads playing simultaneously. Fans can wander from venue to venue, taking in whatever action they choose. It makes for a great festival-like atmosphere. As a rule, the spring sports do not attract large crowds, and the overall atmosphere is laid-back. It's a great way to spend a beautiful spring afternoon.
Fans taking in a game at O'Donnell Field will not be treated to a flashy game-day production. There is the standard between inning and between batter music, but little else in the way of entertainment.
Before or after a game at Harvard, take a walk across the Anderson Memorial Bridge, which spans the Charles River, and explore Harvard Square, a top Boston tourist destination. While Harvard Square may not be the bohemian center it once was, it still is one of the most popular areas in Boston for walking, shopping, and people watching (yeah, yeah, I know, it's technically in Cambridge, not Boston). It's a great way to spend a weekend afternoon in the spring.
For those wishing to bask in the history, architecture, and aura of Harvard, this is the place for you. Take a walking tour of the campus if you are so inclined, and take a picture in front of the statue of John Harvard, as thousands of others have done. Just remember these three things about the statue: 1) It is not actually a statue of John Harvard (no image of him exists), but of a random student; 2) John Harvard was not the founder of the college, but its first benefactor; and 3) The college was actually founded in 1636, not in 1638, as the statue claims. But remember to touch his shiny shoe, it is rumored to bring good luck.
The area around the stadium complex in Allston is a working class neighborhood, and not the tourist destination that Cambridge is. There are, however, some hidden gems to be found in the area. Walk about a half-mile south of O'Donnell Field on North Harvard Street and you will find a cluster of restaurants and shops along Western Avenue. It's off the beaten path, but a worthwhile destination for adventurous ballpark chasers.
The crowd at O'Donnell Field can best be described as a "friends and family" group. With so much action taking place in the immediate vicinity of the baseball park, there is a steady stream of traffic around the venue. Unfortunately, few students stay to watch the game for more than a couple of innings. As you may expect at a place like Harvard, some interesting conversations can be heard while sitting in the stands. The day's topics can stray far from the game action happening down on the field.
While Harvard University is located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, O'Donnell Field is located across the Charles River, in the Allston section of Boston., Also located here are most of Harvard's other athletic facilities. Even on its best days, the city of Boston is a difficult city to drive in. Depending on which direction you are coming from, you will be navigating some of the most difficult city streets you will ever encounter. Locals will recommend that you use public transportation to get around Boston. If you do plan to drive to Harvard, try to have someone with you who knows the crooked streets of Boston well.
A much more efficient method of transportation in Boston is the subway, or "T," as it is called locally. The Harvard Station MBTA stop is a 10 minute walk from Harvard Stadium across the Charles River. Several bus routes also stop at Harvard Station. In addition, the 66 and 86 bus routes stop on North Harvard Street, directly in front of the athletic complex.
Fans requiring handicapped seating will find spots available on the bleachers behind home plate. There is also plenty of room to sit along both foul lines for fans who bring their own seats. There is no permanent structure at O'Donnell Field, so fans needing to use the restroom will have to settle for several port-a-johns available.
With free admission and free parking directly next to the ballpark (yes, you heard that right, free parking in Boston), taking in a game at Harvard is an inexpensive way to spend a beautiful spring afternoon in Boston. In addition, with several games going on in the area simultaneously, baseball is not your only option if going to O'Donnell Field.
Attending a game at O'Donnell Field is a bare bones experience. There are no extras here to speak of, but the variety of athletic events going on many weekends earns Harvard an extra point.
Despite the fact that Harvard boasts an NCAA-best 41 varsity teams, the baseball team is not a marquee attraction here in Boston. The Soldier Field athletic complex is a nice place to take in some Division One athletic competition, but Ivy League baseball can hardly be considered the big time. Remember that this is the northeast, and the weather can be fickle during the early part of the college baseball season. O'Donnell Field will remain a destination for only the most dedicated ballpark chasers.
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