Baseball: Fenway - more than just a park

The home of the Boston Red Sox, which is 100 years old tomorrow, defines American history like no other place

These might be the maunderings of an embittered Everton supporter who was in the crowd at last Saturday's FA Cup semi-final, but really, haven't things come to a pretty pass in English football when Liverpool play Everton at Wembley and the former's two principal owners aren't even there, citing a conflicting commitment to their first sporting love, the Boston Red Sox baseball team?

Still, in fairness to John W Henry and Tom Werner this is quite a season to be a Red Sox fan, let alone a Red Sox owner, for it marks the centenary of the team's venerable and atmospheric home, Fenway Park.

Tomorrow, it will be 100 years to the day since the purpose-built ballpark hosted its inaugural major league game, in which the Red Sox beat the New York Highlanders 7-6. It's unlikely that any of the 27,000 crowd gave it much thought at the time, especially with the sinking of the US-bound Titanic a few days earlier dominating most conversations, but an icon of Americana had been born, later becoming one of the 150 buildings chosen by the American Institute of Architects as having defined "The Shape of America". If anyone were ever to step out of a Norman Rockwell painting, it would probably be to go to Fenway Park.

Not for nothing did Henry and Werner call their company, the company that in 2010 bought Liverpool FC, the Fenway Sports Group.

Today, Fenway Park is revered for its history and, in an era of edge-of-town super-stadia, its central Boston location, its smallness and quaint idiosyncrasies.

In April 1912, however, it represented modernity. Most American ballparks were still made of wood, and since many of them also were located close to railroads, destructive fires started by sparks from passing trains were regular occurrences. The new Red Sox home, by contrast, was built in brick and steel, the same components that seemed to have forged one of its earliest heroes, a moon-faced phenomenon called George Herman Ruth.

Boston fans loved Ruth, the man they called "Babe" but also "Bambino", and mourned when on 26 December 1919, at the age of 24, he was sold to the New York Yankees for $100,000 in cash, plus a $300,000 loan with Fenway Park offered as collateral. The mourning continued until 2004, when the Red Sox won their first World Series since 1918, a seemingly interminable drought ascribed throughout baseball to "the Curse of the Bambino".

Despite the 86-year failure to win a World Series, Fenway Park hosted many of baseball's epic moments and was graced by its greatest heroes, few greater than the slugging colossus Ted Williams, a southpaw like Ruth, whose .400 batting average in the 1941 season has never been surpassed or even matched.

In 1946, Williams struck what is still the mightiest home run in Fenway's 100-year history. It travelled more than 500ft, crashing through the straw hat of fan Joseph A Boucher, sitting in section 42, row 37, seat 21. A single red seat among the standard green seats now marks the spot, and outside the stadium, Williams is immortalised, 8ft high, in bronze.

As for Boucher, he later told The Boston Globe that the prodigious homer bounced off him and landed a dozen rows higher up. "But after it hit my head I was no longer interested," he added.

If Fenway Park had known only baseball, it would still be one of America's most cherished cultural shrines. But it has witnessed much besides, not least a 1919 rally, addressed by an impassioned Eamon de Valera and attended by 60,000 people, in favour of Irish independence. In 1920, boxing became part of the stadium's repertoire, and America's political heavyweights too have delivered knockout blows at Fenway Park. In 1944, President Franklin D Roosevelt delivered his final campaign speech there. Three days later he won an unprecedented fourth term. As for the likely protagonists in this year's presidential election, both have turned Fenway's unique aura to their advantage: the former Massachussetts governor Mitt Romney used it to host a barbecue for 800 campaign donors, and Barack Obama held a fundraiser there during his first run for the White House.

Nevertheless, it is baseball, and only baseball, with which Fenway Park is synonymous, even though it is in many ways unsuited to the modern game. "A compromise between Man's Euclidean determinations and Nature's beguiling irregularities," is how the novelist John Updike lyrically described it, for it is squeezed into an urban space that by any sensible measure is too small for it. More than any other ballpark, including the similarly evocative Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs, it is a place of quirks, none quirkier than the so-called Green Monster, a wall 240ft long and 37ft high that runs along the side of the abnormally short left-field, and was built to keep balls inside the stadium and non-paying spectators out. As Henry and Werner have perhaps reflected, the Green Monster is to Fenway what the Kop is to Anfield: part of the very soul of the place.

That soul has been threatened down the years. In 1965, the Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey declared his intention to tear down the "hopelessly outdated" ballpark and build a handsome new arena with a retractable roof.

Similar plans were still being mooted 35 years later, when the Red Sox general manager, Dan Duquette, told the Globe: "The longer we wait, the further behind we'll fall. We need a new ballpark to survive."

The parallels with Premier League football are striking, and in England, of course, Anfield is one of the grounds deemed, in its present form, to be commercially inadequate. Perhaps significantly, though, it was Henry and Werner, after their consortium bought the Red Sox in 2001, who rejected the scheme to demolish the old stadium and build a swankier look-alike, preferring a programme of sensitive refurbishment and renewal. "When you sit in your seats, you can almost imagine the ghost of Babe Ruth or Ted Williams," said Werner. "You don't create an imitation if you have the real thing."

It is unlikely that he and Henry feel quite as sentimental about the ghosts of Billy Liddell and Bob Paisley: why would they? Still, at least they will be attending the FA Cup final on 5 May – even though it clashes with the visit of the Baltimore Orioles, the Red Sox's nemesis last season, to their beloved Fenway Park.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Experienced Bookkeeper - German Speaking - Part Time

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm of accountants based ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a financial services c...

Ashdown Group: Field Service Engineer

£30000 - £32000 per annum + car allowance and on call: Ashdown Group: A succes...

Recruitment Genius: Sales & Marketing Co-Ordinator

£15000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Well established small company ...

Day In a Page

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk
Nepal earthquake: One man's desperate escape from Everest base camp after the disaster

Escape from Everest base camp

Nick Talbot was sitting in his tent when the tsunami of snow and rock hit. He was lucky to live, unlike his climbing partner just feet away...
Adopting high fibre diet could dramatically cut risk of bowel cancer, says study

What happened when 20 Americans swapped diets with 20 Africans?

Innovative study in the US produces remarkable results
Blake Lively and 'The Age of Adaline': Gossip Girl comes
of age

Gossip girl comes of age

Blake Lively is best known for playing an affluent teenager. Her role as a woman who is trapped forever at 29 is a greater challenge
Goat cuisine: Kid meat is coming to Ocado

Goat cuisine

It's loved by chefs, ethical, low in fat and delicious. So, will kid meat give lamb a run for its money?
14 best coat hooks

Hang on: 14 best coat hooks

Set the tone for the rest of your house with a stylish and functional coat rack in the hallway
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?