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Fenway Park at 100: What is it about that ballpark?

April 20, 2012|By Amy Hubbard
  • In April 2010, fireworks over the Fenway Park press box precede the opening game between the Yankees and Red Sox. The Red Sox will celebrate the 100th anniversary of Fenway's opening on Friday.
In April 2010, fireworks over the Fenway Park press box precede the opening… (Elise Amendola / Associated…)

Within a single week in April 1912, one icon of the ages sank and another rose.  The Titanic took its legendary dive just over a century ago, on April 15.  Five days later, the first crack of a baseball bat signaled a piece of history snapping into place at Fenway Park.

The inaugural game at what is now America's oldest operating Major League Baseball park was 100 years ago Friday. The Boston Red Sox played the New York Highlanders, with Boston beating the Yankees' predecessor 7-6 in 11 innings. There were 24,000 fans in attendance at the new facility. 

Was there some spark of the mythic in Fenway Park even then?  Or perhaps its aura, the sense of something sacred, grew slowly over the years, built on memories and legends and ghosts ... Smokey Joe Wood, the Splendid Splinter (Ted Williams), Carl "Yaz" Yastrzemski.

Fan site Red Sox Diehard answers the question "What makes Fenway Fenway?"

"Seeing a hitter drive a pitch half-way up the 'Green Monster' just to be held to a long single; watching a runner head for third while his ball bounces around in 'the triangle'; seeing a player wrap a pitch around 'Pesky's Pole' for a 305-foot home run..."  

The Green Monster is, of course, the 37-foot-high left field wall; "the triangle" is a tricky area for players to navigate in center field; and the Pesky Pole (named for '40s-era Red Sox second baseman Johnny Pesky) is the pole on the right field foul line located, at 302 feet, a notably short distance from home plate.

Fenway Park "just has this mystique, this closeness,"  Dick Bresciani, a Red Sox vice president and team historian, told The Times' Kevin Baxter in an interview at the ballpark last year.

"Everybody's close to the action with very little foul ground, so it's almost like you're involved," he said. "The excitement that's generated when you come in here and you're part of this whole environment."

Bill Veeck, one-time owner of the Cleveland Indians,  St. Louis Browns and Chicago White Sox, summed it up in a quote included at the Fenway Park "100 Years" website: "Other places have spectators; Fenway has 35,000 participants."

And many of those participants are regulars -- Fenway loyalists.  As Baxter wrote, in Boston, "a love for baseball is handed down like an heirloom from generation to generation."

Mike DiGiovanna, who covers the Angels for the Los Angeles Times, said Friday that he'd covered numerous playoff and World Series games and dozens of regular-season games at Fenway Park over the last 18 years.  He shared these memories:

"My most memorable on-field moments came in the 2004 American League championship series, when the New York Yankees pummeled the Red Sox in Game 3 and the Red Sox, sparked by Dave Roberts' stolen base, staged dramatic comebacks in Games 4 and 5 en route to becoming the first team to erase a 3-0 deficit and win a seven-game series.

"But when I think of old, antiquated -- some would say outdated, some would say charming -- Fenway, two images immediately come to mind, the smell in the tunnel going from the visiting clubhouse to the third-base dugout and the adrenaline rush I get when the windows to the press box are all flung open just before the first pitch on a warm New England evening.

"Decades of must and mildew, combined with the gallons of bleach stadium workers splash on the walls every night, create a unique smell in that tunnel, one that can be so overwhelming it makes you nauseated. It’s even worse after it rains, and the panels of plywood that act as a floor to the tunnel give it an interesting, bouncy feel as you trek from the clubhouse to the dugout.

"But every time I walk through that tunnel, I think that Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and so many other baseball greats made the same walk, and that always gets me through it.

"The press box is located at the top of Fenway, between home plate and third base, and on warm nights, the windows remain closed until game time to keep the cool, air-conditioned air inside.

"Right around 7 p.m., the Boston writers in the front row raise the windows in unison, and all the sights, sounds and smells of Fenway — the anticipation of the fans, the vendors, the organ music, the sausages grilling in the concession stands below, the crack of the catcher’s mitt as the pitcher completes his warm-up tosses—come rushing in, creating a festive, almost carnival-like atmosphere that I have not felt in any other stadium.

"It’s at that point that I feel I’m not just covering a baseball game, I’m covering 'an event.'"

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