America’s “Most Beloved” Ballpark turns 100 years old today. On this date one century ago, the first baseball game at Fenway Park took place with the hometown Boston Red Sox defeating the New York Highlanders 7-6 in 11 innings. On that date, then-mayor John F. Fitzgerald (grandfather of John F. Kennedy) threw out the first pitch on the new ballpark as the newspapers had wall-to-wall coverage of the Titantic sinking that occurred just a few days earlier. One year later the Highlanders became the Yankees, and today the 2012 versions of the Sox and Yankees will make their first acquaintances of the 2012 season at the same old ballpark.
As Dan Shaughnessy so perfectly put it this morning “ballparks don’t live to be 100. All the great ones, except Fenway Park, are gone. Forbes Field, Tiger Stadium, Ebbets Field, the Polo Grounds, Shibe Park, Crosley Field, and the orginal Yankee Stadium. All gone.” (http://bostonglobe.com/1969/12/22/fenway/9g52Rfj8oswX550phD6wTK/story.html) In making his point Shaughnessy neglected to mention Wrigley Field, which will turn 100 in four years, but he’s right, stadiums just are not supposed to have that kind of lifetime. With new state-of-art amenities, larger concourses, and probably most importantly larger seats that can actually accommodate the ever-growing sizes of our obese population, stadiums and arenas just don’t have the kind of lifespan that you can expect to take your grandkids to watch games where you did growing up. But somehow Fenway is special. It is unique. When people say something is one-of-a-kind they don’t always mean it, but with Fenway Park it is the god’s honest truth.
That’s not to say that Fenway and the park’s experience have not tried to be replicated at other places. Even before this Sox current ownership group drew up plans to create “Fenway South” with JetBlue Park, the club’s spring training facility that has the exact field dimensions as the Boston landmark (except for a 40 foot left-field wall instead of the 37’2” Green Monster on Yawkey Way), other baseball stadiums have been created with high walls short distances from home plate, or inviting dimensions down the right field line, or even a triangle in center-field. But none of these other parks even come close to having the charm nor the history that Fenway Park does, and that is what makes Fenway Park such an awesome place no matter what that Tampa Bay Rays scrub Luke Scott says.
Over the past 100 years Fenway Park has been a place where some of baseball’s most memorable moments have happened, and unfortunately not enough of them are positive memories. Since this is my blog I will not rehash the Bucky “Bleeping” Dent moment or the other times the hometown team has faltered, but instead focus on the positive (especially with the ugly baseball the team is playing this year). One historical moment, which thankfully became less relevant in 2004, was the 1918 clinching of the World Series at Fenway Park. Babe Ruth and company clinched the Series on Boston soil for the second and last time (both the 2004 and 2007 World Series were won in the National League ballparks). The Red Sox greatest player also homered in his last at-bat, when Ted Williams launched a 440-foot bomb to right field on September 28, 1960. One of the scariest moments also happened at Fenway, when in 1967 Tony Conigliaro was stuck beneath his left eye socket, was hospitalized, and didn’t return to action until 1969. Carlton “Pudge” Fisk hit the shot-heard-round-the-world in 1975 and in 1986, Roger Clemens set a major league record for strikeouts with 20 in an April 29th tilt with the Seattle Mariners. In the past decade there has also been plenty of drama between the Sox and arch-rival the Yankees, and that has spilled on to the field with the 2003 showdown between Pedro Martinez and the much older Don Zimmer, and the 2004 fight between Yankees wuss Alex Rodriguez and Red Sox captain Jason Varitek. I could go on and on about great moments at Fenway but many of them you have to see to believe.
My greatest memory of Fenway Park is attending the first game of the Red Sox and Atlanta Braves inter-league series in August 1997. Even though I grew up about 30 miles from Fenway Park, I spent many nights as a child watching the Braves games on TBS since it was hard to convince my dad to pay for NESN. Baseball has always been my favorite sport since I was a toddler I told my parents and grandparents “I want to be the bat, I want to be the ball” at a Sox spring training game in Florida, so I always either had the Braves game on the television or the Red Sox game on the radio when they weren’t on national television. I only got the chance to go to one, maybe two, games a year at the Park growing up so it was a really special moment getting to see my two favorite teams (and my three favorite players…Nomar & Chipper and Andruw Jones) and also a pitcher who I idolized in John Smoltz. Even though the Sox got walloped, 9-1 that day, I was hooked and still absolutely in love with the sport of baseball and those two ball-clubs. My second favorite “memory” about Fenway is razzing a former girlfriend’s father about wearing a Marlins cap inside the stadium for a game against the Sox, even though he had grown up on Massachusetts’ north shore. I never really understood how a Red Sox fan (which he still is) could have done that, but as I’ve grown older I’ve realized that he was just being a supportive father and representing the team where he currently lives and where he’s raised his family, so I’ve let him off the hook since then. I still don’t condone his actions, but I understand them, and he’s appreciative of the fact that I’ve turned her into a Boston sports fan though she’s only been to Boston a handful of times.
On this birthday celebration for Fenway Park I am curious to what your favorite Fenway moments have been over the years, or any thoughts that you have about the ballpark and the atmosphere on Yawkey Way and surrounding areas. If you have never made the trip to Boston to check it out I highly recommend that you do at some point, and I hope that you can experience the same feelings that make Fenway Park and the Boston Red Sox hold such a special place in my heart. Happy Birthday, Fenway, now Red Sox go out and destroy the Yankees! Play ball!