Fenway Park’s 100th Anniversary: There’s Nothing Like Being at the Game

I’ve never considered myself religious by any means. Yet, I’m a believer that everyone has some place where they just feel – home, or safe. A sanctuary, of sorts. To some of the more religious types, a church. Baseball stadiums are my church. There is just something about passing through the gates and walking into the depths of a ballpark. Past the food, drink, and souvenir concessions. Past countless other people who are their with friends, family, or co-workers for any number of reasons. There’s just something special about being in a ballpark on game day.

The very first game that I ever attended live was at Shea Stadium, sometime in the mid to late 1980s. I’m fairly sure that they played against the San Francisco Giants. Unfortunately there is little that I remember beyond that aside from dropping my giant foam finger over the railing of the second deck onto some other fan, along with my soda, and the fact that after the trip to the stadium my sister and I both came down with the chicken pox, forcing my father to remain away on business for an extra two weeks. I couldn’t tell you who won without knowing the exact date and finding a box score.

I’d make a return visit to Shea in July 1998. The Mets would lose 9-8 in 11 innings against the Montreal Expos. A young right fielder in just his second full year in the Majors by the name of Vladimir Guerrero would hit his 15th home run of the season that night, en route to a 38 HR, 109 RBI season.

In April 2001 I caught a Red Sox vs. Yankees game at Yankee Stadium. I went with a few friends from college – one Yankee fan and one Red Sox fan. We sat with the “Bleacher Creatures” in right field and relentlessly taunted center fielder Carl Everett for much of the game. The Yankee fan was from Connecticut originally and had been going down to the Bronx for years with his family. The Red Sox fan had never been. Neither had I. I had always wanted to go when we lived in New York when I was young but the opportunity never presented itself. My parents* were never keen on the idea of taking kids into the Bronx for a ballgame. It seemed appropriate that my first (and only) game in attendance at the old Yankee Stadium was against the Red Sox.

That Friday evening Andy Pettitte pitched a complete game, only allowing one run on six hits. The Yankees would win 6-1. Derek Jeter would go 2 for 4 in the game, with a pair of RBI and stolen bases. Chuck Knoblauch was beginning a failed experiment in which he was being moved to left field to make room for a young second baseman named Alfonso Soriano.

* Both my parents originate from Massachusetts, so they’re both lifelong Red Sox fans. My sister and I, however, grew up in New York. She ultimately became a Mets fan, in part because she wanted to be different from the rest of us. For a while she had a fascination with the Mariners (for their team colors in the early 1990s and because Ken Griffey Jr. was left-handed like her) and the Twins (mostly for their logo) but stuck with the Mets in the end. I was the one who grew up a Yankee fan. I had a few years where I rooted for the A’s as well, mostly due to a misguided admiration for Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire. I remember reading the sports section of the newspaper while my mother tried to get me to eat breakfast before school and learning about Canseco’s trade to Texas. Now, I’m a loyal Yankee fan but consider myself a fan of the game first and foremost.

The summer of 2009 my fiancé (then girlfriend – the proposal came along later) and I spent a few days in New York City. The trip was designed around visiting a friend, showing her a city she’d never been to, and allowing me to catch a game at each of New York’s new ballparks. She and I caught an afternoon game at Citi Field against the St. Louis Cardinals on a Wednesday in early August. The next night we saw the Red Sox play the Yankees at the new Yankee Stadium.

The Mets would end up winning that game by a 9-0 score. David Wright smashed a two-run home run in the first inning and the Mets would have six other extra-base hits in the game. Albert Pujols went 2 for 3 with a pair of doubles himself but the Cardinals received little from the rest of the lineup. Most Mets fans may remember this as being the game in which Jonathan Niese was forced to leave in the second inning after tearing his hamstring covering first base. It was painful to watch in person.

The Yankees would take the Thursday night game by a score of 13-6. John Smoltz was hit hard for 8 runs in 3.1 innings in what would turn out to be his final start for Boston. The Yankees hit four home runs, including two in the 4th inning, which gave Joba Chamberlain enough support to take the win as New York’s starter.

There have also been numerous minor leagues games in Hudson Valley (NY Penn League, Low-A affiliate of Texas at the time – now with Tampa Bay), New Britain (AA affiliate of Minnesota), and Pawtucket (AAA affiliate of Boston). Once I even was at a Japanese League game in Tokyo. Once again, there’s a game I’d love to find the boxscore for but I don’t recall the exact date.

Throughout the years, however, I’ve attended more games at Fenway Park than possibly all of these other stadiums combined. Much of this is proximity as the bulk of the last decade I have spent living in the Boston area. Attending a game at Fenway Park is convenient but more importantly, it’s a wonderful ballpark. It’s one of the most historic ballparks in baseball history for good reason and has witnessed baseball’s greatest for nearly a full century. A detailed look at said history was recently published in a a book entitled Remembering Fenway Park that I recently reviewed at BFTB. There’s also this partial list:

  • Fenway Park was home to the careers of Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, and Jim Rice
  • Wade Boggs, Cy Young, Tris Speaker, Babe Ruth, Dennis Eckersley, and Carlton Fisk also spent portions of their careers playing their home games at Fenway Park on their way to the Hall of Fame.
  • The foul pole down the first base line has been renamed “Pesky’s Pole” in honor of Johnny Pesky. Pesky spent the first 8 years of his 10 year career playing shortstop and third base for the Red Sox from 1942 through 1952 – except for a four-year hiatus during World War II. During his Boston career he batted .313/.401/.393 with a grand total of 13 HR in 4,760 plate appearances.
  • Williams batted .406 in 1941. And .388 in 1957.
  • Williams also scored 150 runs in 1949.
  • Boggs had 240 hits in 1985.
  • Earl Webb hit 67 doubles in 1931. Speaker had 22 triples in 1913.
  • David Ortiz hit 54 HR in 2006.
  • Jimmie Foxx drove in 175 runs in 1938.
  • Pedro Martinez, yet another future Hall of Famer on this list, struck out 313 batters in 1999 (when he won his second of three Cy Young Awards after going 23-4 with a 2.07 ERA)

I’ve been to my share of memorable games at Fenway Park too.

May 19, 2008 in particular was one of the better games. Angela and I had tickets for that Monday night’s game. We had both been sick the few days preceding the date of the game, so the fact that we had tickets had nearly eluded both of us. That Monday we both had left work early because we still weren’t feeling any better. As we sat at home early that afternoon, contemplating whether we had the appetite to make dinner, it dawned on us that we had tickets for the game that night. We figured we’d go and if we left after a few innings then so be it, at least we would catch part of the game. Shortly around the fifth inning I realized that Jon Lester had not yet allowed a hit to the visiting Royals. I knew then that we weren’t leaving early. In fact, I don’t believe I got up from my seat the remainder of the game. Lester would finish the game, striking out 9 while only walking 2. We nearly forgot we had tickets for the game and ended up witnessing Lester’s no-hitter.

On April 20th, 1912 Fenway Park opened its doors for the first time. The Red Sox won that game, 7-6, against the not-quite-yet hated New York Yankees (technically it was the New York Highlanders at the time). That season the team would enjoy their new ballpark, posting a 57-20 home record on their way to winning 105 total games and the World Series. Attendance figures (and stadium capacities) weren’t then what they are like today but according to Baseball Reference there were 597,096 fans who attended a game at Fenway that year.

Just over a month ago, on April 20th, 2011 the ownership group of the Boston Red Sox announced plans for next year, the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park. And there are some things here that definitely will get a baseball fan excited. Team President Larry Lucchino spoke at a press conference for the team’s plans:

We have decided to take an affirmative and active and engaging approach to this whole thing and try to make this celebration of 100 years unique. In our mind, it deserves a fitting, a grand, and an extended celebration.

The central part of Lucchino’s announcement was the introduction of FenwayPark100.com – a site developed to bring together stories, memories, and the history of the fabled ballpark with a chance for the fans to keep up to date on all of the celebratory events that will be scheduled for next Spring.

Coincidentally next April is also going to be a major milestone in my own personal life. My fiancé and I have set an April 15th date for our wedding next Spring, just a few days before Fenway’s official anniversary date. We plan to get married that Sunday, the same weekend of Patriot’s Day and the Boston Marathon. We’ll go to the Red Sox game that Monday – the team always plays an 11:00 AM game on Marathon Monday – before heading off on a well-deserved honeymoon vacation.

Fenway Park, the stadium that has been such a big part of my life, and the lives of countless others who likely may read this post, will continue to be a lasting memory for years to come.


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