Memories are what sets Fenway apart
BOSTON -- There aren't many places where a trip to a sporting event takes on aspects of a religious pilgrimage, but a 100-year-old ballpark here still supplies that experience.
Fenway Park turned 100 on Friday, hosting a party attended by 36,770 of its closest friends. This is the oldest ballpark in the Major Leagues, two years older than Wrigley Field. The two places have some obvious similarities, but it would be fair to say that more care has been taken to make certain that Fenway is allowed to age with grace.
There is no other place exactly like Fenway, which is why when ballparks elsewhere with rich histories have inevitably met the wrecking ball, this place perseveres.
It was 100 years ago that Fenway opened, with the Red Sox defeating the New York Highlanders, 7-6, in 11 innings. The Highlanders, of course, became the Yankees. The ballpark's 100th birthday was marked with the Yankees on hand again, and both teams wore throwback uniforms -- no numbers on these unis, and no names, either.
The dominant news story of April 1912, was another bit of history that would not be forgotten. Five days before Fenway opened, the Titanic, making its maiden voyage, sunk in the North Atlantic after hitting an iceberg. The Titanic had been advertised as unsinkable, the greatest ship ever built.
But Fenway Park turned out to be the structure with real staying power. The Red Sox warmed to their new home. They won 105 regular-season games in 1912, still a franchise record. They won the World Series that year, too. In fact, in their first seven seasons in Fenway, the Red Sox won four World Series. What followed was an 86-year drought that ended with the 2004 World Series championship, which, taking a historical view, was followed almost instantaneously by another championship, in 2007.
In the first 11 years of the new millennium, only two teams have won two World Series -- the Red Sox and the Cardinals. So Fenway has seen two eras of triumph for the Red Sox. It is just that there was some, you know, separation between the two eras.
Fenway Park was substantially refurbished in 1934, when the "Green Monster" left-field wall was added to an already unique architectural mix. The park would not be Fenway without the particular "Fenway Green," a special blend that is allegedly seen nowhere else. It's especially easy to notice Fenway Green after viewing Marlins Park in Miami, where the outfield walls are a shade of lime green so bright that it almost seems iridescent. But here, the Monster wouldn't be the Monster if it weren't the Green Monster.
Fenway, through a combination of unprecedented ballpark longevity and the rich history of the Red Sox, has a storehouse of memorable moments unlike that of any other sports facility in the land. Major League Baseball Commissioner Allan H. (Bud) Selig, appearing on the NESN broadcast during Friday's 6-2 Boston loss, noted that quality, saying:
"When you walk and come to Fenway, it's just like it was 30 years ago. The beauty and stability here is why this park means so much to many generations."
Anybody who has been here will have a favorite memory. And those memories will be shared memories, becoming part of the history of families and friendships. Yankees manager Joe Girardi mentioned Carlton Fisk's home run in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, a moment that will live on, not only in Red Sox history, but in the history of the entire game.
When Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine was asked if Fenway had a life of its own, he responded:
"The park has at least a life. It has a magic to it. It's a baseball land of Oz. People dream about this place."
The Red Sox celebrated the ballpark's birthday with a touching ceremony, the centerpiece of which was 212 Sox alumni -- including players, coaches and managers -- walking out to their positions, one by one. This brought the memories to life. And in some cases, it reminded everyone on hand that one of the things that tied the players, the coaching staffs, Red Sox Nation and Fenway Park together were not just moments of triumph but moments of heartache. There were long years -- long decades, for that matter -- when being a Red Sox fan required not only true devotion and lasting loyalty, but a grim determination to see this thing through.
And that is why one of the best moments of this ceremony was the prolonged ovation for Bill Buckner. It was spontaneous, it was real, it was heartfelt, it was human. And there is no place else in the world where this moment could be enacted, re-enacted or even attempted.
The 2012 Red Sox, playing in the 1912 Red Sox uniforms, did lose to the Yankees on Friday. There was some ambivalence about having New York as the opponent for this historic occasion. Valentine gave voice to that mixture of feelings about the presence of the Yankees, saying:
"It adds to the day, or takes away from the day. I'm not sure."
But in the end, the opponent had to be the Yankees, because they were wearing the road grays when Fenway opened. The rivalry did not overwhelm the day, even if the Yankees did not cooperate with the preferred New England script, which would have included a Red Sox victory.
Still, there had been a splendid spring day, 78 degrees at game time, with constant sunshine. Fenway Park was still standing, still thriving at age 100. Upward of 36,000 Red Sox loyalists were privileged to be on hand for yet another day, another game, another piece of Red Sox lore, another experience shared with families and friends, another rite at Fenway.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.