BOSTON – On April 20, 1912, a band-box park in some land that was probably carved out by cow paths (like all roads in Boston), hosted its’ first game as the home Red Sox defeated the future-Yankees (Highlanders).
Anyone who watched the Sox sure-handed MVP, Dustin Pedroia, drop a pop-up to start Boston’s 2012 opener wondered why any game would start at 3:00 p.m., as it did that day 100 years ago.
That was then and this is now.
Much has changed. There’s no one who couldn’t make a grand list of things that have happened in the past 100 years. But at Fenway, it is business as usual in the park Boston fans consider “the heart of Boston.”
The ceremony to commemorate the 100th anniversary was not too long, not too short, not too loud but was never dull or quiet. At some point, every pair of eyes at Fenway Park on April 20, 2012 was awestruck. From the vendors, to the fans, to the current and retired players (many retired players walked with video cameras or mobile devices, recording their own view of the ceremony).
The former players gathered in hidden pockets throughout the field. Former pitcher and current player’s agent, Joe Sambito, poked his head out with his kids from the ambulance bay in centerfield. The Red Sox greats were allowed to have their families with them before they walked out. Even those in the ceremony weren’t quite sure what to expect. “Wear black pants” was about the only instruction they had received.
Hall of Famer Jim Rice was the first one on the field, walking in from near the Green Monster and the litany of Boston greats each entered the field one-by-one.
Yankees skipper Joe Girardi, his eyes under a pair of mirrored sunglasses, was clinging to the rail of the top step of the visitor’s dugout taking in every moment. The hated Alex Rodriguez and the captain Derek Jeter, who Sox fans begrudgingly respect, were right next to Girardi.
Unlike similar ceremonies at Yankee Stadium that are filled with grandeur and narrative accolade, the Fenway 100 ceremony script could fit on two index cards – each player announced on the centerfield scoreboard with a picture from their playing days and the years they played – those who were members of the 2004 and 2007 title teams with a World Series trophy next to their names.
The noise in the park was from applause, not announcements. Not one player was booed, except, of course for the Yankees when they were announced at their at-bats.
Players from different generations continued to walk out, receiving cheers from every generation of Red Sox fans. Different pockets of fans cheered louder for long past greats and for recent retirees.
Bill Lee came in swinging a bat. Former manager Terry Francona got a monstrous ovation from the fans as thanks for the two World Series titles. It would have lasted longer if the next player wasn’t brought in. Bill Buckner walked in to a loud, apologetic applause. It was as if the Red Sox fans were yelling “we forgive you” in unison. Carlton Fisk looked like he could still play.
Former Red Sox and Olympian Scott Bankhead was taking pictures from the pitcher’s mound of Carl Yastrzemski as Yaz, the last player to hit the Triple Crown, walked from the dugout to the middle of the infield. He earned a prince’s applause.
The highest living royalty of Red Sox lore, Johnny Pesky and Bobby Doerr (both decades beyond their playing years) were wheeled in by the most recently knighted players, Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield.
When they all stood on the field for the national anthem, old players and then the new ones (in vintage, numberless-uniforms), it was a high point in the history of the Red Sox Nation. The shared pause and silence before the Boston Pops (conducted by movie sound track legend and Bostonian John Williams) was a reminder of the quieter time, maybe 100 years ago, when players first took to the grass at Fenway Park.
And for fans that were there – it was a day to bring your father, or grandfather or your kids. Many three, or even four-generation families were in attendance. It is true that the attendees of the game are just as likely to remember who they went with than what they saw on the field. Baseball is like that. Memories trump statistics sometimes.
Pedro Martinez and Kevin Millar capped off the ceremony with a wild toast and a little jab at their hated rival Yankees. Caroline Kennedy threw out the first pitch. And just like that, it was time for “play ball,” as it feels like it’s always been at Fenway: the Red Sox, their hated rivals the Yankees, and all of Boston, New England and America watching baseball at Fenway Park.
As it seems we always have.