This is my third column today on this subject. I tore up the other two, because they were emotionless and filled with boring facts. To me, Fenway Park represents a significant part of my childhood. Along with the Red Sox, it is part of the legacy I am turning over to my children and grand children.
I was reminded of the importance of Fenway to we Bostonians when I talked to my grand daughter Jilian yesterday. She is a California kid going to college in Boston. She watched her first Marathon as it passed right under her window on Commonwealth Avenue. She told me the spectators were 10 deep trying to get a glimpse of the runners. Unlike they way I remembered it. It used to start at 8 A.M and end around 11 A.M, but it was still crowded.
In those days, there were slightly over 100 runners. Today, there are 1000's. Then,they would start early in the morning to avoid the heat of the day. Yesterday, it was so hot that 4000 plus of the potential runners didn't even start. Because of the heat, an additional 2000 were treated in medical tents, an unprecedented number and 100 were taken by ambulance to the hospital.
The officials have allowed some 400 runners who picked up their Bibs, but didn't start to defer this year's entry until next year. That will be the marathon's 117th year! For a long time, the only race of its kind in the U.S.
The race is fashioned purely after an historic run made in Greece 2500 years ago. The legend tells us that an Athenian Soldier named Pheidippides ran from the town of Marathon Battlefield to Athens carrying a message of victory over the Persians. The distance was 26 miles, 385 yards. Upon presenting his message, he dropped dead. Ironically, over 2000 runners were taken to the hospital this year and treated for heat prostration mainly due to the late start time.
When I was a kid it always took place on April 19th, Patriots day, a major Holiday, celebrated in only Maine and Massachusetts. All civic buildings, offices and schools were closed. It honored the day that Paul Revere rode to warn the farmers of Lexington and Concord that the British (the Red Coats) were coming. This holiday still exists, but is now celebrated annually on the 2nd Monday in April.
From the time I was four, my dad would take me, ironically, right to the corner where Jilian now lives to watch the race. After the first 20, or so, runners had passed us, we would hop in my dad's car and navigate the cobble stone streets that passed for roads in order to get to Fenway in time for batting practice.
What a wonderful experience! My dad and I watching the Red Sox on Opening Day at Fenway. Our personal tradition began 76 years ago. This year, Fenway celebrates its 100th year.
When you approach it, it doesn't look like much. In fact, when the great pitcher Roger Clements saw it for the first time, he supposedly said to the Cab Driver, "Hey I asked you to take me to Fenway Park, a Major League Baseball Stadium, not to this old barn".
It may look like an old barn outside, but inside the confines there are so many memories. For example, when the publisher of Boston's venerable newspaper, the Globe also owned the Red Sox and built the Ball Park in 1912, he could not get a front-page story in his own newspaper, because the Cruise Ship Titanic had sunk on the same day as the first game100 years ago.
Ironically, my favorite book about Baseball is "Ted Williams" written by former Globe reporter Leigh Montville. One of the reasons it hits home with me is that Ted is my all-time favorite Ballplayer. As fate would have it, in 1946, I did not miss a single home game. I also saw some of the Braves games, but it was the Sox that called me.
In Cambridge, Massachusetts where I lived, the Parks and Recreation Department in conjunction with both the Red Sox and the Boston Braves, sold memberships to "The Knothole Gang". In these economic times, I know it is hard to realize that for a Dime, I could not only join the club, but could get in free at every game all season, sitting in any empty seats in the Left Field Stands. That of course was where my hero Ted Williams played.
Many other cities had the same thing. The clubs got their names originally from Minor League Teams who created this to increase lagging attendance. In those days, many of the Minor league fences were made of wood, which had knotholes through which kids, in order to avoid paying an admission, would sneak peeks to look at the game.
Watching Ted play that year was wonderful! On June 9, 1946, Ted hit a Home Run that was officially measured at 502 feet and landed in the Right Field Bleachers. It landed in Section 42, Row 37, and Seat 21. Years later to honor the stupendous feat that area, (the seat) was painted Red. In 1946, there were no actual seats, just benches marked with location. I eventually sat in the seat. It cost me $23.
It was also in the 1946 All-Star Game played at Fenway that Ted hit the only Home run ever hit off of the Pirates great Rip Sewell and his Ephus Ball. This was a high arcing pitch that sort of wiggled its way over the plate. It had no velocity arriving at the plate in a descending curve. No one else could hit it long, never the less over 400 feet. He went 4 for 4 and had there been an MVP Award at that time, he would have been the recipient.
There have been so many other events; concerts, soccer matches, ice hockey and football. Both collegiate and professional football teams including the Boston Yanks and later in 1959, the fledgling Boston Patriots of the AFL played there prior to becoming the NFL New England Patriots played there.
I saw President Franklin D. Roosevelt while he was campaigning for a third term in 1939, enter the park in a Packard Phaeton. I was there. I was 8 years old, but still got goose pimples because my dad conveyed his excitement.
In 1908, the Red Stockings became the Red Sox... never to look back. Fenway is an old and proud lady. It has many stories to tell. For example, the times it snowed on opening days. It saw the antics of Centerfielder Jimmy Piersal as he ran the bases backwards after hitting a Home Run. It saw a Seagull drop a fish on the mound, as lefty Mel Parnell was getting ready to pitch.
Fenway saw its darkest moment when the current owners decided to raze the Park and build an ultra-modern one in South Boston six miles away. In Southie, there are plenty of open spaces. Currently, the constraints of the Fenway area and its crowded neighborhood only allow for limited seating capacity.
The last of the original parks, it is also among the smallest. The plan was to replace Fenway and its cramped quarters with its limited parking availability and the many seats located behind Steel Poles. A hue and cry went up from the faithful. The cry was so loud; the owners were forced to rethink their plans.
So much so, that in 1986, the National Park Service Advisory Board recommended that Fenway Park be designated a National Historic Monument. The owners, who at the time were dreaming of their new park, fought the National Park Service. The Battle still rages!
So, the oldest Ball yard in the Major Leagues, a place that has seen the Red Sox enjoy consecutive sellouts for almost 9 years... home of the Green Monster, the 37-foot high left field wall erected to protect neighbors from flying balls breaking windows, remains.Well my dad is gone and I have lived in California for almost fifty years, but my love of The Red Sox and Fenway Park remains strong. Fenway Park has been called "the cruelest, coolest, longest-running Major League Baseball Stadium". It is all those things and will probably outlive us all. You know what, it's okay with me.