Monday, April 8, 2013

Opening Day

The "Green Monster" at Fenway Park. Image via
Boston is a sports-loving place.

Although the Celtics are the most accomplished franchise in NBA history, the Red Sox own this town.

Babe Ruth's old team plays in beautifully ratty Fenway Park; the first game played there was on April 20, 1912. The news of the world on that first opening day there was about a mammoth cruise ship, the Titanic, that just days earlier had sank in the icy North Atlantic, taking approximately 1,500 people to their deaths.

The quaint, quirky old yard is revered; outside of Chicago's Wrigley Field, there is no place that has the character and special flavor that the American game recalls. Fenway and Wrigley are the last of their kind: every team in baseball has given in to monetary pressure to build a new, fancy-schmancy place that provides the most sought-after feature of a modern ballpark: expensive luxury suites.

Luxury suites are profit centers. Corporations buy them at exorbitant annual rates, guarantee a base of season-ticket sales, and almost always come with catering requirements that add to a team's coffers. In the business of sports, they're perfectly understandable.

But that's really another story.

Today was the 102nd season opener at Fenway. Think about that. Ruth was two years away his major league debut for Boston, and a few years from greater glory in New York and becoming the face of the game for generations, if not still. (In fact, the Yankees didn't even exist in 1912. In 1913, the New York Highlanders changed their name to "Yankees" -- the Highlanders were the Sox' first Fenway opponent.)

Those 1912 Sox had a handful of Hall of Famers anyway en route to an AL-best 105-47 season capped by a World Series title won by the Sox at Fenway in the 8th game of the seven-game series.

Yes. Game 2 was called after 11 innings due to darkness. Different time. The hastily needed eighth game was played before less than 18,000 fans on Wednesday, Oct. 16, with the Sox pushing across two runs in the 10th to beat the New York Giants.

It was the first Series win for the Sox, although the franchise established in 1901 had won in 1903 as the Boston Americans. Life in the new park would seem charmed: the Sox won it all in 1915, 1916 and 1918. Ruth, one of the team's young stars, won two pitching starts in the 1918 Series win over the Cubs.

Prior to the 1920 season, Ruth was dealt to a crummy franchise in New York that had never won anything.

Ruth's home-run production would turn the Yankees into baseball's most storied team. He was a part of seven pennants and four Series wins, and the Yankees have to date won 27 crowns.

After 1918, it was 86 years before the Sox tasted another Series win.

Like everything here, the park is steeped in history. If an American Leaguer is in the Hall of Fame, the odds are good that he set foot in Fenway. Ty Cobb, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle... and in Series losses before interleague play, Stan Musial, Steve Carlton, Johnny Bench and Pete Rose... all worked in Fenway. Its left field wall, more than 37 feet tall, is called the "Green Monster" and is unlike anything else in the game.

Opening Day here is, as Joe Biden might say, a Big Fucking Deal.

The local sports channel started coverage hours before first pitch. The best day of 2013, weather-wise, just happened to coincide with the game. Temperatures soared into the mid-60s and the sky was clear. It was an absolutely glorious day, a hint of summer's promise.

And the fans were treated to a win, too.

It's going to be fun to catch a game there this year.

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