Published April 20, 2012
America's oldest working Major League ballpark, Boston's Fenway Park, is 100 years old Friday, and the park is celebrating.
What better way to kick off the next century of competition between two teams that make up one of the greatest rivalries in sports than with a rematch?
The Red Sox played the New York Yankees, the same team they played on April 20, 1912, when the opponent was called the New York Highlanders.
Both teams wore throwback uniforms, and fans manned the stands as they've done for generations -- staring out across the hallowed ground where the greats of the game, like Babe Ruth and Ted Williams, once rounded the bases.
And while the hometown team ended up losing 6-2 on Friday to the Bronx Bombers, the season is young and Fenway remains.
"This is what I like about Fenway... the family feel of it. Generations upon generations upon generations have brought their kids here for a long time," said Cory Sprague, a father who brought his family, including three sons, to enjoy Thursday's Open House held at Fenway Park. The Red Sox invited the public to wander the historic grounds and soak up the history.
"You want to drape the atmosphere in sentiment, emotion, and nostalgia, and try to stimulate memories," said Charles Steinberg, a senior advisor to team president Larry Lucchino. Steinberg was the executive vice president of public affairs for the Red Sox from 2002 through 2007.
Memories are easy to cultivate on the historic grounds. Fans still pack the park's narrow wooden seats, built for a slimmer population, surrounded by hallowed ground.
"If you come up on the facade on Yawkey Way it still looks very much the same as it did in 1912," said Saul Wisnia, the author of "Fenway Park, The Centennial: 100 Years of Red Sox Baseball." That volume is packed with historic photos and a DVD hosted by retired Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk.
"I really think what makes Fenway so unique -- and maybe Wrigley Field is the only (other) park that can say this is -- it really goes back to the early days of baseball," Wisnia said. "These new ballparks kind of have that feel, but Fenway, you can actually say Babe Ruth played here. Ted Williams played here."
Throughout the decades, onlookers from every walk of life cheered in the stands. In 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave his final campaign speech from Fenway. In the '60s, Catholic nuns had their own day, filling the stands in their black and white habits.
Fenway has lasted a century but its future has not always been secure.
"There's actually been two times when Fenway was on the endangered species list," said Wisnia. "First in the 1960s when the Red Sox were drawing terribly after Ted Williams retired. They actually had a couple games where there were under 500 people here, if you can believe that, and Tom Yawkey, the owner, was really thinking of trying to get a new stadium, a dome stadium perhaps or moving it out to the suburbs."
The headlines didn't look good for Fenway but then something incredible happened. The 1967 team started winning.
"That was the Impossible Dream Team. The ballpark started getting filled up and all of sudden Fenway went from kind of this broken down old park to kind of a magical spot and that kind of gave it a stay of execution," said Wisnia.
Fenway was on the chopping block again in the 90s. The owners thought a new park was needed to stay competitive with other big-city teams that were laying the groundwork for new mega-stadiums with shopping plazas and vast parking lots.
A grassroots movement to save Fenway was organized. Soon new ownership took over and under the leadership of John Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino, Fenway got a $285 million dollar facelift, including added seats above the famous Green Monster and other spots, new restaurants, widened concourses, HD monitors and more.
"It is so wonderful to be here. This is home for anybody in Red Sox Nation to come in here, with what's going on in the world, it is a very happy place," said Jeannette Gallagher. The 70-year-old says she's been a fan since she was a little girl.
"As we have been planning the 100th anniversary, one of the things you wonder is what did they think 100 years ago?" mused Steinberg. "Did they have the vision to imagine that the ballpark would live 100 years and then, what is our vision? Will it be here for its 200th -- can you imagine the Fenway Park bicentennial?"
Many in Red Sox Nation, sitting in the stands where their grandparents cheered, hope their own grandchildren will see the day.